If you’re planning a holiday dinner party this year, think salads. A salad makes the perfect first course. It’s a light and fresh beginning for the richer main course to follow, and you can do all the prep in advance, tossing the ingredients just before serving.
I eat salads all year long and rarely have a dinner that does not involve a small plate of greens, either pre- or post-dinner, with a bit of cheese. So the recipe I made contains both and achieves all the notes that I desire in taste and texture.
A rule in making a great salad is pairing the right dressing/vinaigrette with the right greens. Bitter greens pair well with a bolder dressing – one that packs some punch, such as one with a hit of fresh lemon, spice or even bacon.
Tender greens such as Bibb and endive pair well with a light vinaigrette as the greens are more delicate. Bold flavors would overwhelm, and the weight of a heavier dressing would drown and wilt the lettuce.
The salad below is based on tender greens, where the grapes act as the sweet note, the apple as the tart, Gruyère cheese serves as the nutty nugget and all the elements are laced together with a light vinaigrette.
This recipe, which yields two servings, can be multiplied to serve as large a group as you like.
Grape, Green Apple, Gruyère and Fennel Salad
1 tablespoon tarragon or champagne or white wine vinegar or to taste
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup peeled cubed green apple
1/4 cup shaved fennel (optional)
1 cup small bibb or Boston leaves
1/2 cup julienned endive leaves
2 tablespoons cubed or chopped Gruyère cheese
4 sliced seedless red grapes
1 tablespoon chopped chives (optional)
- Whisk together vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper in a serving bowl until combined well. Slowly whisk in oil. Stir in apple and fennel, if using, and let stand 10 minutes to soften fennel and keep apple from turning brown.
- Gently toss in remaining ingredients and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
Toppers to make your salad more festive:
- Toasted and/or spiced pecans, walnuts or almonds
- Toasted garlic croutons
- Cooked and crumbled bacon (almost goes with everything)
- Sliced celery
- Torn prosciutto
- Chopped pitted dates or dried plums instead of grapes
- Goat cheese, Swiss or Manchego instead of Gruyère
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