Posted on March 23, 2015
Strawberry Spinach Salad with Caramelized Pecans and Grilled Chicken
Happy Spring! On Friday the calendar announced that spring has officially sprung. Usually that means warmer nicer weather, but that’s not necessarily true here in Colorado. It may be 70 degrees tomorrow and a winter weather advisory the next day. Spring can be a bit moody. Nonetheless, big beautiful strawberries have arrived at the stores here and their presence just seems to sing the promise of spring. This fresh and colorful salad will make you feel like spring even if it’s snowing outside.
I’ve only recently begun making this salad, but it has already become a favorite. There are a lot of different ingredients that you can customize to your liking by leaving them out or including them. You can leave out the chicken and make this as a side salad or leave it in to make a complete meal. Regardless of whether or not you want to make this whole salad, you really MUST MAKE THE PECANS. Oh my goodness! They are so delicious. Whatever quantity you think you need, you may just want to double it, so that there will be enough to put on the salad because you will have a hard time not eating them all while you put together the rest of the ingredients. The pecans are absolutely delicious in this salad, but I have also made them as a Christmastime treat or for garnish on a pumpkin cheesecake in the fall and for stuffing in my mouth by the fistful. MAKE THE PECANS! Well, unless you are allergic to them and even then you still might want to consider it. They just might be worth the hives… Another option may be to choose another nut such as walnuts or almonds, but I really recommend the pecans. Have I mentioned that the pecans are really good?
Strawberry Spinach Salad with Caramelized Pecans and Grilled Chicken:
Yield: 4-6 dinner salads, but you can easily adjust amounts up or down for 1-100.
- 4 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 cup nuts, your preference (PECANS, walnuts, almonds, etc.)
- Optional: 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
For the chicken:
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (amount is your preference)
- Olive oil
- kosher salt
For the salad dressing: (Alternate: you could use a bottled raspberry vinaigrette or other dressing you prefer.)
- 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic or white vinegar (I use balsamic)
- 1/4 tsp. paprika
- 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tbsp. minced red onion
For the salad:
- 10 ounces fresh baby spinach-rinsed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 quart strawberries-cleaned, hulled, and thinly sliced
- Feta or blue cheese crumbles
- 1 can (large or small, depending on your preference) mandarin oranges
- Cook the chicken: Remove any extra fat, rinse the chicken in cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (Bake or grill to your preference) If baking, bake on foil-lined sheet at 350 for 20-40 minutes until juices run clear and internal temperature reaches 165. If grilling, grill on medium heat for 8-10 minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 165. (This can be made in advance and served cold or warmed.)
- Caramelize the nuts: Place brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and cinnamon (optional) in a non-stick skillet on the stove top. Set heat to medium to medium high. Stir the mixture as it comes together until it bubbles pretty strongly. Add nuts of your choice and stir to coat. Continue cooking for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly until nuts turn golden brown and smell toasted. Transfer to parchment paper, spread and separate the nuts some, and cool completely. Break them apart and enjoy on the salad or as a snack. (These could easily be made well in advance, unless you can’t be trusted alone with them.)
- Make the salad dressing: In a medium bowl or jar, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Cover and chill for a while. When you are ready to use, give it a vigorous shaking to combine any ingredients that may have separated. (This can be made in advance also; just shake it up well before using.)
- Make the salad and serve: In a large bowl, combine the spinach, feta or blue cheese crumbles, strawberries, oranges, cut up chicken (warmed or cold), and pecans. Just before serving, pour some dressing over the salad and toss, adding more dressing as needed. If you are serving to a group with potential allergies or strong preferences, you could offer some or all of the toppings buffet style, letting the guests choose what to include/exclude. *Do not put the dressing on far in advance. It will make the salad soggy. Salad also does not keep well. Best if eaten immediately.