Monday, August 22, 2011

Autumn Pear and Arugula Salad

It's going to cool off some day. Autumn IS coming! How do I know? Well, for one thing, school is back in, and that means tomorrow I'm back to my job teaching biology at San Antonio College.

But the other indicator that I think is more important is that I just got to eat my favorite seasonal Autumn salad! A salad that is, well, mostly of my invention, though based off other recipes and flavor combinations that are nothing new. Then again, what recipes aren't? This salad was inspired a few years ago by some local ingredients I often got in my CSA in fall: pears and arugula. I just started getting them again recently, so that means fall MUST be coming, even if it is still 100 degrees outside!

Since this is a salad, everything is "to taste". Just throw everything together roughly in the order listed, and enjoy.

  • arugula - a good big bunch
  • pears - one or two depending on how big they are
  • walnuts
  • blue cheese
  • honey
  • white wine vinegar

  • Put a bunch of arugula on a plate.
  • Cut pear(s) into bite sized slices and lay on top of arugula.
  • Sprinkle on walnuts.
  • Crumble on blue cheese.
  • Drizzle on some honey and vinegar.
  • Crunch it up.
I've seen some other versions of this salad that got fancier by poaching the pears first or using candied walnuts, but I really don't think that's necessary. In my version you just pile everything up, which is much easier. I've seen versions that used apples instead of pears, which I guess is ok if you can't find any pears, but I much prefer pears. For one thing, they're grown locally, and apples aren't, but I also think the flavor and texture of nice ripe pears works much better in this. My position on using other nuts besides walnuts is about the same. Pecans or almonds might work ok, but I think walnuts really excel here.

I've also seen some other versions that use milder greens either mixed with or instead of the arugula, such as spinach and lettuce, and milder cheeses instead of the blue cheese, which I guess might be ok if you're a wuss. I've mixed milder greens in when I didn't have enough arugula, but I love the nutty, peppery bite of arugula straight no chaser. And I wouldn't do without creamy, salty, savory blue cheese on this. I think one of the neat things about this salad is that most of the flavor comes from the main ingredients and not the dressing, which is the opposite of the iceburg lettuce salads I grew up with that were defined by the dressing. This salad is moistened with just a bit of honey to add a little more sweetness, and some vinegar to add a bit of of bright tang. I think apple cider vinegar would be fine on this if you can't find white wine vinegar, but I haven't tried it.

This is a hearty enough salad, with protein from the nuts and cheese, to work on it's own as a light lunch, or even a light dinner while the temperature is still in the 90's and you've been out in the heat all day and really don't feel like fixing yourself a hot meal. I invented this salad when I was in grad school and had to teach a late lab on Friday nights after the buses had quit running, and had to walk a couple of miles home since I didn't have a parking pass. It was nice and refreshing after getting all sweaty and tired doing that.

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