Remember the warm spinach salad? That hot bacon dressing, crumbles of blue cheese, crunchy nuts and those canned orange slices, all mounded over a bed of slightly wilted spinach?
I have fond memories of those now pretty dated creations. My aunt used to take me to the mall restaurant for special occasions, and since she was my favorite relative I grew up loving those salads. And I was so proud of loving a “health food” like spinach. Then again, no matter how healthy the spinach was, I’m willing to bet the rest of those ingredients weren’t doing me any favors.
So with spring here — and spinach being more abundant than ever — I decided to recreate that spinach salad, with some updates and tweaks to improve the nutrient profile.
I swapped out the canned oranges (which usually are packed in a light syrup) for fresh oranges that are roasted at high heat just long enough to coax out the natural sweetness and add depth of flavor.
Instead of using hot bacon grease for the warmth, I let the roasted oranges (and sweet shallot) do the mild wilting. (You can let the roasted elements completely cool if you’d prefer the spinach not wilt at all).
Blue cheese and bacon are added in tiny quantities to keep the saturated fat content in check, but mixing it into the dressing means their flavor impact is maximized. Using avocado is a great trick for bringing in the silky creaminess that cheese usually offers while adding some fiber and healthier fats.
The result is a fresher, healthier version of that ‘70s salad that made me fall in love with the now-ubiquitous baby spinach in the first place.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
For the dressing:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon blue cheese crumbles
1 strip bacon (turkey or regular), cooked crisp and crumbled
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
For the salad:
2 navel oranges
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
4 cups baby spinach
1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
1/3 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Heat the oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment.
To prepare the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and water, then drizzle in the olive oil while whisking to emulsify. Add the blue cheese, bacon crumbles and thyme, then whisk just enough to turn the vinaigrette a little bit creamy. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
To prepare the oranges, slice off and discard a 1/4-inch slice from the top and bottom of each orange. Use a paring knife to trim away the skin and pith (white membrane) from the oranges, working from top to bottom. Set the oranges on their sides and gently slice them crosswise 1/4-inch slices.
In a medium bowl, gently combine the orange slices with a drizzle of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the same bowl toss the shallot with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. After the oranges have baked for 5 minutes, add the shallot to the baking sheet and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the edges of the oranges begin to caramelize. Set aside to cool slightly.
To assemble the salads, divide the spinach between 4 serving plates, then top each portion with 1/4 cup of the quinoa. Divide the still slightly warm orange slices and shallots between the salads, then top with avocado cubes and pecans. Spoon dressing over top of each salad.
Nutrition information per serving: 340 calories; 220 calories from fat (65 percent of total calories); 25 g fat (3.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 26 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 7 g protein; 230 mg sodium.