This weekend I helped throw a bridal shower for my sister, which meant a culmination of all of her favorite foods: brown butter banana bread, chocolate chunk banana muffins, dirt cake, mini cupcakes, cheese-laden-yet-fluffy egg bakes…and then there was this salad.
I know what you’re thinking: what’s a salad doing among that lineup? If there’s any “salad” at all, shouldn’t it be stuffed with chicken and swirled with mayonnaise?
Wrong. We had strict instructions from my sister: “No tupperware, no chicken salad.” So in lieu of chicken salad I made a salad that my sister introduced to me years ago. It was our “fancy salad” that we would make at family gatherings, holidays, etc.
While it may not be the creamy mess you’d expect to see at a bridal shower, be not deterred by the word “salad” in this recipe’s title, because it has its indulgences. There is no fat-free feta used here, no store-bought “light” balsamic vinaigrette, and the candied almonds are more candy than almonds.
But, you know, it has spinach and fruit and stuff…so yeah. Legit.
Strawberry Spinach Salad with Candied Almonds
Balsamic adapted from Emeril Lagasse.
Serves 5-6 as a side dish, but served 18 when placed in a long line of bridal shower goodies.
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 cups chopped strawberries (about 1 pint)
- 6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- 5-ounces baby spinach
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Let’s start by getting those almonds caramelized! Add the sugar and almonds to a nonstick fry pan, then turn the pan on medium heat. Stir frequently, and after a few minutes you’ll see the sugar caramelize. Keep stirring until all the almonds are coated, and then spread into a single layer on a cookie sheet. Let cook completely.
Once they’re cooled, break the almonds into chunks. You’ll have little clusters of crunchy sweetness.
Wash your strawberries and dry them off with a paper towel. You don’t want excess water making your salad soupy, do you?
I chopped my strawberries into eighths so they didn’t overwhelm the other ingredients, but you can have bigger chunks if you so desire.
Combine the vinegar, sugar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Slowly add the olive oil while the processor us running so that it thickens up. If you don’t have a food processor, just whisk with all your might.
If you have high quality balsamic vinegar, you may need less sugar. I tend to be a penny-pincher on my vinegar, so I added 2 teaspoons and it was perfect.
Let’s assemble! In a large bowl, add the spinach, strawberries, candied almonds, and feta. Pour on the balsamic vinaigrette right before serving and toss it up.
This salad has it all: sweet, juicy, crunchy, and a little acidic bite of balsamic.
My sister happily acknowledged that her requests had been met as the ladies gobbled up all of the sister-centered food goodness. When the shower wrapped up, I ended up taking home leftover chocolate chunk banana muffins, and my sister took home half a bucket of dirt cake (to be fair there was a full bucket to begin with), but I amazingly walked out the door with not a single spinach leaf, almond cluster, or strawberry left in my bowl.
Sure, this lack of leftovers could be because I have absolutely no sense of amounts and made too little salad and too many muffins and dirt cake, but let’s not focus on that. The truth is that this salad was in high demand. In fact, I’d venture to say it was in way higher demand than any chicken salad at a tupperware party would ever even hope to be.