Spinach Caprese Salad with Sweet Vinaigrette

I've been doing quite well maintaining my healthier lifestyle the past few months—I've even managed to lose a little weight, or at least I had until cookie baking season rolled around. Having cookies in the house is more temptation than I can resist, so I've tried to make eating healthy as simple as possible. My current go-to meal comes in the form of these festive looking salads. I love that they can be made several days in advance and the ingredients kept on hand for those times when I'd rather stand over the kitchen sink and devour my most recent batch of cookies (and lets be honest, we've all been there.) With these salads on hand, no matter how busy I am with holiday preparations I have a healthy lunch at my fingertips and I can't make excuses for eating an entire tray full of cookies during a fit of hunger (or insanity.)  

Spinach Caprese Salad w/ Sweet Vinaigrette

Spinach Caprese Salad with Sweet Vinaigrette
makes 4 servings + extra vinaigrette

Ingredients

for the salad

6oz baby spinach
8oz fresh mozzarella pearls
10oz grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
fresh ground pepper, to taste

for the vinaigrette

¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon minced garlic, dried
¼ teaspoon parsley, dried
⅛ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 pinch red pepper flakes, crushed
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil or other oil of your choice

Directions

for the salad

  • Layer baby spinach with fresh mozzarella pearls and sliced grape tomatoes. Top with sweet vinaigrette and black pepper.

for the vinaigrette

  • In a small saucepan combine the cider vinegar and sugar, turn the heat to high and cook until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 - 3 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before continuing.
  • Add sea salt, dried minced garlic, parsley, fresh ground pepper, and red pepper flakes to the still-warm vinegar. Slowly add oil, then stir or shake until well combined. 
  • Vinaigrette can be stored in a covered container for approximately 2 weeks (I use a half-pint mason jar.) The ingredients will separate, so you'll need to shake the jar to combine the ingredients before serving.

Notes

If you want to turn this into a mason jar salad to-go, wash and completely dry your jar. Put a tablespoon or more of vinaigrette in the bottom of the jar. Add enough tomatoes to completely cover the vinaigrette, add a layer of mozzarella, and finally spinach. Don't let your mozzarella sit in the vinaigrette, it will start to form a hard skin and turns somewhat rubbery.

Place a small square of paper towel at the top of the jar to soak up any condensation. This will work wonders to prolong the life of your salad. Seal the jar and refrigerate until you're ready to eat. Mason jar salads are best when consumed in 2-3 days, although a large batch of vinaigrette will stay fresh for at least two weeks.

Russian Dressing

Several years ago during one of my many road trips, I stopped off at a deli for a Reuben and was completely blown away by the flavor packed into my sandwich. It was the best Reuben I'd ever had, miles ahead of anything that had previously crossed my lips and I've eaten a fair amount of Reubens in my time. It was a slow day in the shop so I spend a good 20 minutes talking with the owner trying to pin down what was so different about this particular sandwich. He proudly told me that what made his sandwich the best was the fact that everything was made from scratch in house except for the cheese which was locally made by a family friend. He went into great detail about the process of curing the corned beef, fermenting the sauerkraut, and how easy it was to make the dressing from scratch. During our talk you could tell that he enjoyed his craft and took enjoyment from the looks of ecstasy that crossed his customer's faces as they took their first bite.

From our conversation I took away several things, first of all I wanted to try to make my own corned beef some day and second, I was going to stop buying commercially prepared salad dressing. Before that conversation I never stopped to think about how easy it would be to make my own, I just picked up a bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch whenever it was on sale and never gave it a second though. I'm pretty sure my love of convenience foods came to an end in the weeks following this conversation, as I realized what I had been missing out on. One of the first dressings I decided to tackle was Russian dressing, since as you can tell, I love a good Reuben and often make them at home. Not only is this dressing great on a Reuben, it's perfect on top of an ordinary salad to make it a little more interesting and it's a necessity for the Reuben salad recipe that I will be posting soon as part of our what to do with the leftover series.

RussianDressing.jpg

Ingredients

1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup ketchup
1 teaspoon onion, minced
1 teaspoon horseradish
1 teaspoon dill pickle, minced
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons parsley, dried
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper 

Directions

  • In a bowl combine mayonnaise, ketchup, minced onion, horseradish, minced dill pickle, Worcestershire sauce, dried parsley, paprika, and black pepper. Mix well and refrigerate at least two hours before serving to allow the flavors to combine.

Recipe Inspiration

Adapted from a Russian Dressing recipe from food.com

Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing

Growing up ranch dressing was always my condiment of choice for salads and veggies. When the holidays would roll around my grandmother would make sure to have a bottle of Kraft buttermilk ranch dressing on the table, knowing my brother and I both loved it. It remained one of my favorite salad dressings well into adulthood, although sometimes I would switch it up a bit and grab a bottle of Hidden Valley ranch. 

Several years ago, in an effort to cut down on the amount of preservatives in my diet, I decided to start making my own salad dressings. Honestly, I'm not sure why it took me so long to realize I could be making much better tasting dressings at home, but now that I have I don't bother with the store bought stuff unless a guest requests it. I've never bothered to write the recipe down before because each time I make it it is a little bit different, but here is where I'm at today. This is a great starting point, but make sure you experiment, the possibilities are endless with this recipe.

ButtermilkRanchDressing.jpg

Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing
makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon dried minced onion
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon parsley 
teaspoon smoked paprika
teaspoon thyme
teaspoon basil
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Directions:

  • Combine ingredients and mix until well incorporated.

Make this at least a day in advance so the flavors have time to meld. It will keep for at least 5 days when kept properly refrigerated.