You know when people say, “wow, this tastes delicious! And I don’t even like _____ ingredient!”
I can’t help but cringe a little. I get the sentiment, I really do, but I can’t help but think… I love _____ ingredient. I love it in all its tasty gloriousness. So if you hate it, but like the dish? That must not be saying much for the use of the ingredient.
Now, I know this isn’t fair, because usually what people mean when they say this is, “I’ve never had _____ prepared in such a delicious way.” Which is a lovely compliment. But I can’t help but be skeptical when I hear those words: I don’t even like ______.
Then there’s me, who has never, ever said those words in my life. Oh, except the other day, when I posted a photo of this salad on my facebook page with these words: “You guys, I don’t even like blue cheese, and I CANNOT GET ENOUGH of this salad.”
That’s right. Hi, I’m Willow, and I’m a hypocrite. Also, this salad is delicious, and what I really meant to say when I said I don’t even like blue cheese, is this:
If you love blue cheese, you are going to love this salad. And if you don’t love blue cheese? I strongly encourage you to try it anyway, because there’s some kind of magic that happens when that weird, tangy blue mess meets the sweet fig and balsamic dressing and salty bacon.
Really, this salad is just straight-up GOOD. I don’t want to hear any blue-cheese hatin’ discriminatin’ until you’ve tried it. M’kay? Grab yourself a nice, mild Stilton, and get your bacon cooking. Then come back and see me.
Now that I think about it, I’ve actually been down this road before, last year, when I shared this Roasted Pear and Gorgonzola Salad. When I first made that recipe, I knew I had hit salad gold. Again, the combination of sweetness from the pears, and the balsamic dressing… magic.
Thinking about these two salads has me day dreaming about how much fun it would be to open a restaurant and call it “The Salad Bar.” Imagine it with me: a small joint, serving up seasonal salads with a gourmet twist. It wouldn’t be an actual, buffet-style salad bar, so much as a bar where you get served up off a menu specialty salads. And the best part? I would never surprise people by putting cheese on a salad without telling them.
It is a major pet peeve of mine when I order a salad, and it doesn’t say on the menu that cheese is an ingredient, and then it comes with a mountain of cheddar on top. Don’t get me wrong, I love a little feta, or parmesan, or goat cheese, or even blue cheese where appropriate, but I do not appreciate a heaping mound of shredded cheese on an otherwise perfectly good bed of greens. This is lettuce, people, not nachos. Get it together. Instead, each salad on the menu would have a list of recommended cheeses people could choose from, or they could opt for no cheese at all. No surprise cheese.
You guys, these are the types of things that run through my head when I’m left alone for too long. I get angry about cheese, and dream up a world in which I am a salad-mixing bar tender and you all are my regulars, who come in and banter late into the night over a plate of baby greens and toppings of your choice.
I sincerely hope that in some other universe, this is a reality.
So, humor me on this, and imagine you’re pulling up a chair at The Salad Bar. The (salad)bar-tender (me) finishes polishing the bar and slings the towel over her shoulder, and asks “what’ll ya have?”
If you could order any salad, ever, what would it be? Go!
- 3 TBSP fig preserves
- 1-2 TBSP water, as needed
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
- 4-5 slices bacon, cooked and roughly chopped
- ½ cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- 3-4 fresh figs (can be omitted if not in season)
- Crumbled blue cheese, to taste
- ~4 oz. mixed salad greens (I particularly like arugula, or a mix with frisee or watercress, which all have a peppery bite to them and go well with the sweetness of the dressing, or you can use whatever you like)
- In a microwave safe bowl, stir together the fig preserves and water. Microwave for ten second intervals to help loosen the fig preserves, and to warm the dressing through (it is best served warm). This can also be done in a small pot on the stove. Add the balsamic dressing, and adjust to taste (more fig jam can be added for sweetness, more balsamic for a bit more acidity, or more water if the dressing is too thick). Set aside.
- Start by toasting the walnuts -- I like to do this in a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Keep a close eye on them, and stir or shake the pan every minute or so to prevent burning. They should be toasted and flavorful after about 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside.
- Cook the bacon until crispy, then drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Chop, or roughly crumble.
- While the bacon cooks, crumble the blue cheese, slice the figs, and get the greens in a bowl large enough for tossing.
- Here's the most important part: when you're ready to serve, assemble the salad. Add the walnuts and bacon, while still warm, to the salad greens, along with the blue cheese and sliced figs. Pour the warm dressing over everything (dressing can be reheated in the microwave, or on the stove, if needed), and toss everything until evenly coated.
- Divide into bowls, and serve immediately.