Spinach salad with pears, cranberries, and toasted cashews (2-4 servings)

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Sometimes I forget that salads transcend the seasons; I tend to think of salad as a summer thing. This one is a beautiful choice for fall though. Spinach and pears are in season locally, and cranberries are in season elsewhere. I found this lovely recipe on Epicurious.com and the only big changes I made were to leave out the red onion (raw onions = bad news for my insides) and substitute cashews for hazelnuts (too expensive). The recipe makes two BIG dinner salads or four side salads.

You will need:
  Dressing

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp whole-grain mustard
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste

Salad

  • 1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 4 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves
  • 1 firm but ripe pear (I used a Tosca but the recipe suggests Bosc)
  • 1/3 cup roasted cashews, unsalted or lightly salted

Steps:

  1. Add the dressing ingredients to a screw-top jar. Cover tightly and shake well to blend. Do a little dance while you shake it up, if desired.
  2. Pour 1 Tbsp of the dressing over the cranberries in a small dish. Allow them to sit for 15-20 minutes to plump up. Set aside the rest of the dressing.
  3. Toast cashews at 375 F for 8-12 minutes, until they're aromatic and golden brown. Alternately, you can toast them in a skillet over medium heat, shaking every so often. Sprinkle them with a pinch of salt if you bought them unsalted. Allow to cool slightly.
  4. Quarter the pear lengthwise and cut out the hard center section with a knife or a sturdy spoon. Slice the quarters into long, thin pieces.
  5. Divide the spinach among two or four plates; distribute the cranberries, pears, and cashews evenly. Drizzle each plate with dressing and serve. (I had a teaspoon or two of dressing left over.)

This is a gorgeous, gorgeous salad, and I really wouldn't change a thing about it. It's a refreshing and healthy choice for this time of year. The dressing has the perfect balance between sweet and tart. Definitely don't leave out the cashews!

I've also made this salad with an firm, sweet apple when a pear won't be ripe in time for me to use it. It's just as good!