Spring has sprung here in Tuscaloosa. Everything looks greener all of the sudden. We’ve had weeks of temperatures in the 60s, 70s, even 80s, and I’ve noticed blossoms gracing trees for at least the last 15-20 days or so. We plan to plant our herb garden next Saturday. Sundresses are in store windows and tickets to several concerts at the city’s one-year-old riverside amphitheater have gone on sale, an eagerly anticipated marker of warmer weather and longer nights. We walked our dog on the University of Alabama campus last weekend, and I immediately regretted leaving my camera at home and having to rely on my husband’s phone.
Here is a light salad to go with the new season, a deconstructed play on the same happily complementary flavors in my last version of chickpea bars. If you’re anything like us, you get tired of the same two basic household salads. (Our overused weeknight duo consists of a black olive-bell pepper-artichoke heart-tomato-white bean mixture, and a pecan-apple-dried cherry combination.)
This one is a unique meshing of different tastes- not overly fruity, with beans and nuts to make it more substantial but not heavy. It is easy to have the ingredients on hand in your pantry and fridge, and the dressing comes together in a snap. It is vegan as is, but we are willing to bet that gorgonzola or blue cheese would be a welcome addition if you eat dairy.
Fig Cherry Walnut Chickpea Salad
Spring greens, baby romaine, heirloom lettuce mix, or your favorite salad base
Chickpeas (drained and rinsed if from a can)
Raw walnuts and/or macadamias
Dried figs (my Calimyrnas are from Sunnyland Farms)
Dried cherries (Bella Viva has organic unsweetened)
Fresh orange segments (optional- if you prefer a sweeter, fruitier salad)
Assemble all ingredients on a plate or in a bowl. Use amounts of each that appeal to you. I skip the orange segments, use about equal portions of beans, nuts, and fruit, and go heavy on the greens/light on the toppings, but you can balance everything exactly the way you like it.
Maple Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
This recipe makes enough for one medium-sized, lightly-dressed salad. You can multiply the measurements below by the number of people you plan to serve, or double it for one larger or more heavily-dressed salad.
I think there is a good reason to start small when it comes to dressing though. You may want to change the proportions of juice, oil, and vinegar to suit your tastes, and if you start too big and then adjust this way and that, you quickly end up with more dressing than you can use. Or maybe that is just me. :) This version was my favorite of all the ones I tried. If you like the balance you can easily double it, and if you don’t like the balance you have room to tweak it as you see fit.
1 Tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil
1/2 tsp. orange juice
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar (I used a Fig Orange one, but it is not necessary or incredible enough to seek out)
1/2 tsp. pure maple syrup (an extra 1/2 tsp. will create a sweeter, more pronounced maple flavor)
dash of finely ground sea salt
tiny dash ground black pepper
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. minced shallots (optional- for a more savory, stronger-flavored dressing)
Mix all ingredients thoroughly. (I whisk them with a fork and shake them in a half-pint mason jar.) Taste, and add more of anything to suit your palate. Use small amounts, go slowly, and taste frequently though- the mixture can get overly acidic or overly oily in a hurry!
Serve salad immediately after dressing. Extra vinaigrette will keep about 3 days in the refrigerator.