One Fab Salad, Four Great Meal Starters
Putting a great meal together is always a fun experience. What’s not always fun, however, is winding up with ingredients that don’t seem to have any purpose other than the recipe you’re following.
Here’s a spectacular arugula, pecan, beet and blue cheese salad that has ingredients that can be used as the basis, or incorporated into 4 other great meals.
First things First - the Salad
This Arugula salad has 4 ingredients that, when combined, pack a flavour punch like no other. This salad can be served as a starter or at the end of the meal (we prefer the latter). You can also swap out the blue cheese for goat cheese, if you prefer. The goal of the cheese is to bring the tang to balance out the sweetness and the spice of the nuts which, by the way, can be either pecans or walnuts.
Ingredients (for 2 people)2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 large pinch of coarse or kosher salt
Arugula, 3 good handfuls
½ cup Sweet & Spicy pecans (see recipe below) - whole or rough chopped
2 roasted beet roots (homemade or store bought), cut in cubes
2 oz of crumbled Gorgonzola (can also use goat cheese or other blue cheese)
In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, white balsamic vinegar and salt. Toss Arugula into dressing until well coated. Add beets, pecans and blue cheese. Toss again and serve immediately.
The sweetness and the spice of the pecans, and the earthiness of the blue cheese lend themselves well to an off-dry Riesling or a Sauterne.
Sweet & Spicy Pecans
One of the easiest and tastiest snacks to have on hand, these delectable little nuggets also substitute the croutons in our salad.
1 cup whole pecans or walnuts
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 good pinch (or more if you can handle it) Cayenne pepper
1 pinch of coarse or kosher salt
In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, toast the pecans (around 2-3 minutes) while constantly stirring and flipping them. Once the pecans have good colour on them, stir in the cayenne pepper (to distribute), then add the maple syrup and reduce the heat. Stir well to make sure all pecans are covered. Heat through around 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them cool for about a minute. Pour them out on a plate and let them cool completely.
To create a truly memorable snack, combine them with blanched almonds and dried fruit. Can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of weeks (if they last that long).
Roasted Beet Roots
One of the healthiest veggies on the planet, yet not many people would consider these a staple in their refrigerator. Likely because roasting them can turn into a messy experience - though nothing that paper towels and gloves can’t mitigate. Nowadays, however, you can find roasted (and peeled, and often organic) beets in most grocery stores. When you go for the latter option, you can find yourself with some extras on hand after you’ve used the 2 in the salad.
Here’s the good news - the beets can now cozy up to pasta, either in the sauce or the pasta itself. If you’re well-versed in making your own pasta, whip one of the beets in with the eggs before blending it into the 00 flour. Not only will it add gorgeous colour to the pasta, you’ll also add all those amazing nutrients (fiber, folate, manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C to name a few).
If you opt for the sauce route, you’ll use the blender to whip up the beets with sautéed aromatics (onion, garlic, leeks) and any other herb you might have on hand (sage, oregano, basil, etc), then cook the blended sauce on low heat and add cream, parmesan or even the goat cheese from the salad to add some creaminess to the sauce. Season well with Salt & Pepper.
This ingredient is one of those “love it or hate it” things. Personally, I think blue cheese gets a bad rap because when this cheese stands alone, well, its pungent nature can end a relationship before it even starts.
Take it one step further, and make it a pizza topping with thin-sliced red onion, prosciutto, crispy sage (whole sage leaves kissed in hot oil) and a drizzle of balsamic glaze and you have the makings of gourmet takeout.
While we’re on the subject of pizza, Arugula is an amazing finish to gourmet pizzas. Take, for example, a gorgeous brie, grape and pecan flatbread topped with Arugula, as pictured here. The brie can easily be substituted for the goat cheese (if you opted for that in the salad). Gently toss the arugula in a bit of olive oil and coarse salt before adding it to the cooked pizza. Heavenly!
Like setting up a pool shot, look beyond the recipe (or your next move). What ingredient can you refocus in another recipe? Cover all your bases and run through the checklist of breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers, snacks. Look at each ingredient and think of at least 2 other uses for them beyond the recipe you’re making. Freeze what you can if you can’t think of anything right away. The important thing here is to experiment and think with the end game in mind. If you can get 3 different dishes out at least 2 ingredients, you’re well on your way to not only stretching your food budget, but also flexing your culinary muscle.