I’m bemused by what seems like a contemporary urge to commit food subterfuge: we spend hours drafting recipes to trick ourselves into thinking we’re eating one thing when it’s actually another. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve pinned my fair share of black bean brownies, beet chocolate cakes, and banana ice creams—but why disguise these superfoods as something else instead of enjoying them for what they truly are? And, more to the point, why not eat a brownie when you really crave a brownie? Because I can almost always taste the beans, and if you can’t, I’m calling Emperor’s New Clothes faster than you can say, “She sings like butter.” Sometimes I don’t want to eat healthfully, and sometimes I do. And when I’m in a mood to straddle the boundary between the two, I think of this salad—warm spinach with a bacon & balsamic vinaigrette.
When I first made this, it was an almost textbook version of a warm spinach salad, except I used balsamic instead the red wine vinegar for which many bacon vinaigrettes call. As I continued making it—craving it on a bi-weekly basis—I tinkered and fussed, and what I present to you below is my version of a classic salad that does its best to pack intense flavor in every bite.
Let me be clear: this is not really a healthy salad. Despite the fact that it gets you to eat your spinach, the rest of it is indulgent, fattening, flavorful, and delicious. It also isn’t a salad you sneak into a meal. It is the leading lady or at the very least taking home the trophy for best supporting salad. So whip this baby up and let it shine.
- 5 cups raw baby spinach
- 5 ounces of raw button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 6 strips of thick cut bacon
- ½ cup of quality balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsps of Dijon mustard
- 4 eggs, hard boiled
- ¼ cup of minced shallots
- 2 tbsps sugar
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Zest of 1 large lemon
- For the mushrooms/onions: In a sauté pan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about two minutes, allowing them to soften.
- Add the sliced button mushrooms, garlic, and thyme, sprinkling with a pinch of salt. Cook together for about 10 minutes until the mushrooms have softened significantly.
- For the dressing: In a separate sauté pan, cook the sliced bacon, rendering the fat and cooking to your desired texture (limp or crispy, it’s up to you). Set bacon aside. Remove all bacon fat except two tablespoons and keep the sauté pan on the heat. Add the shallots to this pan and cook for two minutes, letting them brown and soften.
- Add the balsamic vinegar, and with a wire whisk, stir the balsamic with the bacon fat and shallots, scraping up all brown bits from the bottom.
- Add the Dijon mustard and the sugar, and keep stirring it all together over the heat until combined and the sugar has dissolved. Cook for about 3-5 minutes on the stovetop, allowing it to reduce and thicken.
- Whisk in the lemon juice at the end of this process and remove pan from heat.
- Assembling the salad: Place the washed and dried spinach on a large platter or in a large bowl. Spoon the warm mushrooms and onions over the salad. Cut the cooked bacon strips into bite-sized pieces and distribute over salad. Cut the hard boiled eggs in half and arrange them around the salad. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. You may have more dressing than needed, so add to your own taste. Top the salad with the lemon zest and enjoy! Delicious ingredients you could add if so inclined: Goat cheese (as pictured), toasted pecans.