Mesclun salad with apple and caramelised walnuts

I confess, I am a luddite when it comes to salads. It’s the last thing I think about when I plan a menu, main tick, dessert tick,… and uh…. I’ll toss some green leaves, julienne some carrots and use whatever vinaigrette at the back of the fridge which isn’t past its due date, and fingers crossed it’s passable.

For a recent dinner party, I decided to forgo my errant ways. I wanted a crunchy apple-y salad and I recall with fondness the addition of  caramelised walnuts in a memorable restaurant salad. Trust epicurious website to have exactly what I envisioned. This salad is easier than it looks, magnitudes more delicious and presents beautifully (even with my decidedly amateurish attempt).

The proportions and ingredients can be changed to your preference, the original recipe was for 8, I reduced it for a generous serving for 4. The Spanish Manchego sheep cheese with its slight sharp taste is perfection, and the sweet dates, walnuts and apples is a great complement to the slight bitterness of the mesclun. This is one of those dishes that provides an explosion of textures and tastes in one bite.

Ingredients for caramelised walnuts:
Non-stick vegetable oil spray
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 ½ cups walnuts

Preheat oven to 160°C. Line baking tray with foil. Spray foil with non-stick spray.

Combine sugar and vinegar in small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, about 10 minutes (this took a lot longer than what the 3 mins the original recipe recommended).

Add the walnuts, and turn to coat evenly. Pour mixture onto baking tray.

Bake until nuts are deep brown and syrup thickens and coats nuts, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Cool completely on baking sheet. Break nuts apart. Can be made ahead and stored in airtight container at room temperature.

Salad ingredients: (makes enough for 4):
¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup oil (recipe suggested walnut oil, I used rice bran oil)
1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar

1 bag (350g) mesclun salad
1 crunchy apple, unpeeled, cored, thinly sliced (I used Jazz)
50g Spanish Manchego cheese or sharp white cheddar cheese, shaved
¾ cup pitted dates, sliced
1 cup caramelised walnuts
2 large shallots, finely chopped (for ease, use a food processor)

Boil balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium-high heat until syrupy and reduced to ⅛ cup, about 4 minutes. Don’t over-reduce as it thickens further as it cools. (Rewarm before using)

Whisk oil and white wine vinegar in bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss arugula, apples, half of cheese, dates, walnuts, and shallots in large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper.

You can plate this individually, but I prefer to plate this as a communal dish, –  far more impressive visually. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the salad.

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