No sad little grey-rimmed hardboiled eggs or tragic deli meats in this salad. Just punch after punch of flavour that cruises seamlessly between creamy, zingy, salty, crunchy, acidic, and fatty. Seriously, I’m almost tempted to say that you could eat this salad as a meal (but then I’d be the type of person who eats salad as a meal and you may as well just kill me now if that’s the case). I mean, by all means, eat it as a meal alongside a giant loaf of bread and a bottle of wine so that you don’t have a bellyful of heavy food soaking up all your alcohol, but if you want to actually be sated and full, maybe just eat a little nibble of roast chicken alongside it. Or get drunk and eat salad for dinner. Whatever. No judgment.
BA’s Best: Spinach Salad
Taken directly from BA’s Best arsenal, with the most minor of tweaks here and there
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp white sugar
½ tsp kosher salt + more for seasoning
8 oz (~ 6 slices) thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into ½-inch lardons
1 lb shiitake mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, smashed
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup full-fat sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
¼ cup finely chopped assorted fresh herbs (I used a mixture of Italian parsley, basil, and chives – you could also try your hand with dill or even mint)
2 large bunches mature (not baby) spinach, stems discarded and leaves torn into large bite-sized pieces
In a small bowl, combine the shallot, vinegar, pepper flakes, sugar, and ½ tsp kosher salt. Let sit at room temperature until ready to use. Prep the mushrooms by removing the stems (discard or save for another use) and tearing the caps into roughly 1-inch pieces. Small caps can be left whole or torn in half. Set the mushrooms aside.
Make the dressing now since it does well with a bit of time in the fridge to let the flavours meld together. Whisk the buttermilk, sour cream, mayo, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder and reserved 1 tbsp bacon fat together in a bowl or jar. Season to taste with salt and pepper then gently stir in the chopped herbs. Cover and chill until very cold, at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the bacon pieces in a large, cold skillet and set over medium heat. Let the bacon slowly render until golden and crispy, about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat. Scoop the bacon from the pan onto a paper towel-lined plate, leaving behind a thick coating of grease. Spoon out 1 tbsp of the fat and set aside, leaving the rest in the skillet. Return the skillet to medium heat and add the torn mushroom caps and smashed garlic to the hot bacon grease. Season with salt and pepper, taking into account the fact that the bacon grease will also add a good hit of salt to the mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown and have released most of their liquid. If you find that things are getting quite stuck on to the bottom of the skillet, pour in a small glug of white wine or chicken stock – that should loosen everything up. I like my mushrooms with really crispy edges, so I cooked mine for a good 15 minutes, but 8-10 minutes would be plenty of time if you prefer them a bit softer.
To serve the salad, transfer the spinach leaves to a deep salad bowl. Toss the leaves very gingerly with a light coating of dressing, then throw in the bacon, warm mushrooms, and pickled shallots. This salad is best eaten when the mushrooms are still warm as this wilts the spinach very slightly, but there’s little lost if the mushrooms are room temperature. Toss again until everything has a light slick of dressing. You can add more dressing if desired, but I prefer to serve the remaining sauce alongside the salad to let others add more as they like. I’m the sort who feels that no amount of ranch dressing is ever enough, so I like to be able to self-dose. Prove to yourself that you DID in fact just make friends with salad.