Planting cool weather crops is always a thrill… an assurance that spring is really here and summer’s “salad days” can’t be far behind. The chard, lettuce, kale, and spinach are finally in and I’m waiting anxiously for the tiny leaves to unfurl. Buying mixed greens all winter long, trusting the freshness dates on the plastic boxes, I often find wilted or bruised leaves hiding inside. So, what a pleasure it will be to go into the garden just before mealtime and pick an assortment for a salad that will be eaten within minutes! The tender baby leaves, dressed with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of balsamic and some olive oil make a delicious, simple salad, although I can never resist adding a few nuts, olives, or grated cheese. Peas and asparagus, two other springtime delicacies, are beautiful additions, as well.
Native tomatoes will keep us waiting but, meanwhile, there is an early seasonal fruit that will tide us over very nicely. Fragrant strawberries are June’s luscious offering after a winter of frozen fruit or tasteless imports. One juicy bite is all it takes to conjure up picnics and patio dining. Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at growing my own. The birds have gotten the best of my puny crop… and my patience! But, the roadside stands that advertise fresh strawberries or a drive to a local farm to pick them myself are irresistible and get my appetite stirring for a wide array of treats.
In the dessert department, it goes without saying, strawberries play a starring role. Strawberry shortcakes, strawberry pies, strawberry and rhubarb cobblers and jams are all classics. However, what I also crave as I drive home from a picking expedition, nibbling from the brimming berry boxes, is a strawberry and spinach salad. A strange combination, you may be thinking; but trust me, the results are sensational. It makes a great light lunch on it’s own or a delightfully different side to offer with grilled meats as you venture out to launch the “al fresco” season.
I first encountered this unusual salad several years ago while visiting our niece, a wonderful cook, on Cape Cod. Since then, it has become a favorite, never failing to bring back memories of sandy beaches, sunburns, and family reunions. Studded with poppy seeds and sesame seeds, drenched in a sweet yet savory dressing, the tangy spinach and sugary berries complement each other perfectly. A taste sensation? A bit of heaven? You decide on the hyperbole; but do try this terrific recipe as June provides us with these early gifts from the garden.
Strawberry and Spinach Salad
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup sugar (This can vary to taste. I use a bit less.)
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1½ teaspoons minced onion
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon paprika
Mix all above ingredients and shake or blend well to dissolve sugar.
Pour over fresh baby spinach leaves and fresh strawberry slices. Toss to coat well.
(This makes enough dressing for quite a large salad. If you’re making smaller or individual salads, the extra dressing can be refrigerated for another time. Just bring it to room temperature before serving as the olive oil will congeal.)