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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shallot and Mushroom Spinach Salad

I don't like cooked spinach.

Sure there are a couple of places where it is acceptable, in my opinion.  Namely chopped finely inside of a pasta noodle paired with copious amounts of ricotta (I'm looking at YOU spinach ravioli!!!).  I can even handle it in a spinach pesto, or even a cream cheese or something like that.

But the operative thing here is that it is chopped up finely and mixed with something overpoweringly delicious.

So, it always astounds me... literally confounds me... that people enjoy eating wilted, slimy, foul-smelling, cooked spinach.

If you've read much of what I go on about, I'm sure you've experienced a rant or two of mine in which I extol the benefits of raw vegetables over cooked vegetables.  The sheer amount of nutrients present in raw food versus cooked food is flabbergasting.  Sure we have to cook a lot of our food for safety reasons, and ease-of-digestion reasons, and we choose to cook some food for taste and pleasure, but for the most part, we were meant to consume raw fruit and vegetables.  I believe this.  I believe it so much I tried to be a raw vegan there once or twice... to utter, ruinous failure I'll admit... but nonetheless I admire the theory.

So... there's that reason not to cook spinach.  Why take one of the healthiest, most nutrient-rich, best for you foods, and leech out a ton of those nutrients in order to intentionally wilt the stuff?

The second reason... it's disgusting.  Spinach leaves are delightfully juicy, crisp and crunchy, when raw.  Cooked, they're slimy, fetid, wilted, and smell like a thick bog.  


Anyway... we do eat a fair bit of spinach, in our household, though.  We are sure to buy one of the large tubs of organic baby spinach leaves every week.

Myself, I make a mean raw baby spinach salad with a white-wine and honey vinaigrette.

However, my wife prefers what I will euphemistically term warm spinach salad.

This is a story about that salad, and how it has come to be honed and ameliorated over the years; I may not like it myself, but I still want it to be perfect.  That is a lofty ambition, to be certain, especially when one relies solely on verbal feedback for its betterment in subsequent trials, but there it is.

So here is my wife's favourite Warm Shallot and Mushroom Spinach Salad.

Start by chopping up some shallots.  A fair few.  I'd say at least 3 or 4 per serving of salad.  Chop them relatively finely, but they can be a little coarse.

Get them sauteing in a deep pan with a little bit of olive oil.  It's important to use a deep ban with a lid, as you'll see later.

Chop up one clove of garlic per serving.  You'll note this is substantially less garlic than I normally counsel.  The shallots are the dominant flavour here, so garlic needs to take a supporting role.

Next, slice up some mushrooms.  The amount, and variety, of mushrooms merely depends on personal preference.

Cook the shallots for a minute or two by themselves, and then throw in the sliced mushrooms.

This step is a little tedious, but worth it.  Patiently watch the mushrooms and only stir them if you have to, but make sure that they are not overcrowded, and that they are in full contact with the pan.  Flip them after the start to turn golden brown.  This step may need to be done on low or medium-low heat to avoid caramelizing the shallots and garlic too much.  A little browning of the shallots is OK.

Once they're all browned, pour in a tablespoon of water, along with a large handful of spinach.  I'd say around 2 or 3 cups loosely-packed.  Give it a quick turn about with a wooden spoon or fork, and then quickly put on your tight-fitting lid.

That really only takes about 5 minutes on medium-low to steam, and you'll have some 'cooked' spinach that still looks a little green and hopefully has most of its good stuff intact.

Chop up a half of a tomato, and lightly season it with salt.

Throw that in the pan, and toss it about, along with some freshly ground pepper and a strong herb or spice of your choice.  I've used everything from parsley to cumin, but today I'm using a sweet summer savory.

Before finishing in the pan, splash on a small amount of some sort of wine or vinegar.  I've used everything from rice wine vinegar to blueberry balsamic, but today I'm using a small dose of red wine.

Give it all one final toss in the pan, and then spoon it out into a salad/serving bowl.
Crumble a fair bit of a light, soft, and creamy cheese over the whole thing.  I've used everything from camembert to feta, even an herbed cream cheese, but today I'm using a plain chèvre

And that's it.

To me it doesn't look all that good.  But I'm assured that it is.