Spinach Salad with Smoked Cheddar, Apples, Spiced Pecans and White Truffle Vinaigrette

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My love affair with fall continues. After a return to summer-like weather last week, we’re back to my beloved autumn! Stiff breezes on Friday and Saturday ushered in crisp, cool air making for a beautiful weekend. Saturday night was spectacular—the clear sky sparkled with stars surrounding a bright half-moon. The wind had died down a bit and after a dinner out, Pete and I decided to take a night hike at a local park with miles of trails. We worked off some of our hearty meal on the rolling hills with our headlamps and occasional trail lights illuminating the way, stopping here and there for a switch to total darkness, perfect for gazing at the beauty above us.

We’ve yet to have a freeze or even a frost in most of Minnesota so the farmers’ markets keep cranking out a wide array of colorful choices. New this week were large dried outdoor arrangements that I remembered from near the end of the market last year. This meant it was time to change out the big turquoise Adirondack chair surrounded by flower pots on our front stoop with some of the dried fall color arranged in a large crock, flanked by mums. Just need a few pumpkins to round out the seasonal porch décor.

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Sunday was perfect grilling weather so I picked up some hefty portabellas for marinating and spotted some Kimchi at Trader Joe’s that made me take a second look. There was a “V’’ on the bottom corner, for vegan. Kimchi typically contains fish sauce, so a vegetarian, vegan even, version piqued my interest and got my wheels spinning. Lately I’ve been paging through a newly released cookbook from the husband and wife team Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby of the renowned vegan restaurant Vedge in Philadelphia.

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I’ve yet to try any of the recipes, but just reading has been fun and inspiring. A particular aspect of one recipe that caught my eye was Kimchi Mayo, kimchi chopped fine and mixed into vegan mayonnaise–so simple. It sounded delicious! I could definitely see it as a spread for the bun holding that grilled portabella.

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I had a big bag of tomatillos from last week’s farmers’ market that we weren’t going through quickly enough. Thus, tomatillo salsa was in order—I could freeze some and use some, and wouldn’t tomatillo salsa play well with kimchi mayo? Of course!

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But onto the purpose of this post. The salad. Inspired by a salad on the list of specials at the consistently excellent Domacin Restaurant &Wine Bar in Stillwater, it was memorable. Pete and I ended up there Friday night after our original choice for dinner was closed for a private event. We immediately thought of nearby Domacin, and without a reservation, decided to take a chance anyway. Tables were full, but we were able to snag a couple seats at the bar, which offers full menu service. We’ve often sat there for drinks, but never food and discovered it’s kind of a cozy, fun way to dine in their beautifully restored historic building, overlooking the exposed brick wall holding hundreds of intriguing wines.

This first course spinach salad had smoky flavor from the cheddar (can be omitted for a vegan version), tartness from the apple, and unique deliciousness that a hint of truffle oil imparts. Did I mention it was memorable? I think my version comes close—hope you like it!

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Spinach Salad with Smoked Cheddar, Apples, Spiced Pecans and White Truffle Vinaigrette

White Truffle Vinaigrette

2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white truffle oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Salad

6 oz. fresh baby spinach, washed and patted dry
2 oz. smoked cheddar cheese, shredded (maple smoked is particularly good!), omit for a vegan version
1 medium Gala apple, thinly sliced (or other apple variety of choice)
½ of a medium red onion, sliced
A handful or two of spiced pecans (I used Trader Joe’s sweet-spicy pecans, which worked well)

For dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together while truffle oil, olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper; set aside.

For salad: In a pretty salad bowl, toss spinach with most of the cheddar, apple, onion, and pecans. Lightly dress the salad; toss again. Taste and add more dressing if desired. Top with remaining salad ingredients. Refrigerate any extra dressing—it will keep for several days. Serves 3-4. Enjoy!

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