I have a confession: I’m a creature of habit. When I create recipes, they’re usually based off of something that feels familiar to me, something I know will taste good together. I am by no means a culinary expert, nor do I claim to be. But I do hope that what I put out there is received well and enjoyed. So, in my continued efforts to expand my culinary comfort zone, I decided that today’s post would be (cue drumroll) a salad—an Apple and Walnut Salad with a Honey Dijon Vinaigrette, to be exact.
More on what I was saying before: I never stray too far from what feels comfortable for me. I love cooking Filipino food because it’s so ingrained in who I am. It feels like home. But like I said, creating is a whole different thing. Now, this recipe is not completely free of that—I’ve done the honey Dijon thing many a-time before. But it did challenge me to push outside of total comfort—baby steps, y’all.
For starters, it’s a salad. This Filipino carnivore likes her food meaty. I usually center my dishes around a protein. But in salad, what’s the center? The greens??? No, thanks. Secondly, I don’t love salad in general. It always feels more like a side dish or appetizer than a full meal. And, let’s face it, I don’t usually eat them any other way. Lastly, my total unfamiliarity with the whole salad thing leaves me totally at a loss for what actually makes a good one. All of these things made for a bit of a challenge.
So, why do it? Because, as I mentioned, I’m trying to push myself to think bigger and newer. Also, I live with a new crowd of people. Some of those people are occasionally vegetarian and, very often, those people like salad. That’s another thing about me. I always need a hard push to really challenge myself. Hence, situational changes often forces my hand.
Anyways, I decided that I would pick one thing around which my salad would revolve—a non-meaty center, if you will. As I’m still trying to make Texas feel like Virginia fall, fall flavors have been on the brain. So, I chose Granny Smith apples. Apples are a popular flavor around this time of year, especially as the holiday season approaches. Thus, my comfortable self decided to lean into that idea.
A Granny Smith apple is notably green. It’s also the sour tasting apple. That was a challenge. Sour is great when you balance it out, and that was the challenge here. To do that, I chose a sweeter-leaning secondary ingredient as a complement. Spoiler alert: I’m talking about the walnuts. These naturally toasty morsels perfectly balance out the tartness in the apple. Together, they hold down the center for my salad. For the salad, make sure the apples are cut very thinly so they’re easier to eat. I used an apple corer and then sliced those slices in half. I also toasted the walnuts to enhance their natural nutty, toasty taste.
Honorable mentions go to the greens (of course). For this dish I chose spinach. I thought about adding arugula like I have in other salads (baby steps), but decided against it. I didn’t want the somewhat bitterness of the arugula to interfere with the other flavors. Spinach is much lighter in texture and taste. I wanted it to be like rice—necessary to a meal, but as a background piece to the main attraction.
The second honorable mention goes to the cheese. I added some shredded fontina that I had left over from another popular fall recipe. But it turned out to be the perfect addition of spice. Fontina is like a fancy cheddar—strong, but not overpowering. Feel free to pick your own cheese or leave it vegan! That about rounds out the salad portion of the dish.
But what is salad without a dressing? It’s like fall without cold weather. (Seriously, guys. I miss Virginia fall almost as much as my dog!) Of course my comfort zone opted for a vinaigrette. I’ll be honest. This is the part of the dish that I didn’t push myself hard enough on. But I think it still came out pretty well.
I knew immediately that I wanted to use Dijon mustard. It has a tangy, tart taste with a hint of spice—everything I was hoping the salad had. Adding that to the dressing was a no-brainer. To make it a vinaigrette I added three parts olive oil to one part red wine vinaigrette. Originally I thought about using apple cider vinegar to go along with the whole fall thing. But in the end, the dish was just too sour with so many of the same flavors. Red wine vinegar is very slightly bitter and a little sweet. Ultimately, combined with the Dijon mustard, it was just closer to the taste that I wanted to achieve.
Second confession time: other than some salt, pepper, and cayenne powder that was all I was going to add to the dressing. But when I tasted it, it felt too one note. Everything was so similar. I needed something else to break it up. Immediately I thought, adding something sweet will balance the flavors in the dressing and provide some contrast. And the easiest way for me to do that was to fall on what I know—honey. For sure, it worked out in the end. But I am kicking myself for not being braver in flavors. Alas, another day.
Overall, the salad came out exactly as I’d hoped. Everyone at Sunday dinner loved it, especially as a light side to my easy fried chicken. It was sour with a hint of sweetness. The apples and walnuts were the perfect contrast in textures. I’m still learning through this journey. And I’m grateful for you reading this post, and (hopefully) trying this recipe. Also, thanks to my roommates for letting me make Sunday dinner my testing field for new recipes. While I keep pushing forward, I hope you’ll keep coming along for the ride!
How do you push beyond your culinary comfort zone?
Apple & Walnut Salad + Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
- 3-4 cups spinach
- 1 cup walnuts chopped, toasted
- 3 medium Granny Smith apples thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp Fontina cheese shredded
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 4 tsp honey
- 3 tsp red wine vinegar
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- salt + pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the walnuts in a small baking dish. Bake until toasted--about 5-7 minutes.
In a large bowl add the spinach, walnuts, apple slices, and cheese. Set aside.
In a small bowl add the Dijon mustard and honey. Mix together until combined. Add the remaining ingredients and mix with a fork until combined and thick. Toss the salad with the dressing and serve!