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Cheap strawberries. It must be spring.

What more can I say? I bought a lot, with this vague strawberry balsamic vinaigrette salad idea. The kids were devouring the strawberries, and fast, so I knew I needed to try my experiment or I’d miss my chance. Dinner was going to be corn chicken chowder with bacon and chives, and I thought the sweet strawberry salad would be refreshing with the thick, savory chowder.

I’d never made the chowder before — it was a dish one of the kids requested when we were sorting through cooking magazines and looking for ideas. Remember that. Never made the soup before. Inventing the salad on the fly. Improv dinner — my favorite way to cook. When it works, it’s a magical victory. When it works…

I grabbed the ingredients that appealed to me — lots of crunchy jicama and radish, fresh herbs — and started playing.

Ingredients for Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

Ingredients, ready to go!

Ingredients:
(Side salad, serves six.)
6 cups of mixed baby greens.
1 large avocado, quartered lengthwise and sliced.
6 radishes, sliced.
1 cup diced jicama.
1 fistful of fresh mint, chopped.
1 fistful of fresh basil, chopped.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
6 large strawberries, sliced.
1 T sugar.
1 T balsamic vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

Pretty colors.


I decided to macerate the strawberries in sugar and vinegar — my goal was a heavily infused salad dressing, so that the strawberry flavor would really permeate the salad. I started by slicing the strawberries and putting them in a large jar. I added the sugar, closed the lid and tossed the strawberries to really coat them with the sugar. I let that sit for a moment, then added the balsamic vinegar and tossed them again. While the strawberries released their juices, I began to work. I created a bed of baby greens, and chopped the jicama and the radishes. Then I added the herbs. I paused here to tend to the soup. You’ll want to let the strawberries macerate for at least twenty minutes, so plan your cooking accordingly. When the chowder was ready to dish up, I sliced open the avocado, added the oil and salt to the salad dressing, and combined it all.

Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

It looks so good...

The Verdict:
My core idea was solid. The macerated strawberries made a truly amazing salad dressing. Basil and mint were perfect herbs to pair with the vinaigrette, and the jicama and radish worked really well.

But… It was too mushy! The combination of the tender baby greens, macerated strawberries, and that enormous avocado was just not right. Even with the jicama and radish, it was too soft and squishy. I think I should have left the avocado out. Or started with a crunchier green — romaine, or endive — and used less of the avocado. I think really good endives and just a little avocado would make this a classy, well balanced salad.

But my real error was my meal planning, or lack thereof. Corn chowder. Remember that? I honed in on the salty bacon, and thought my sweet strawberry salad would be perfect with the savory soup. But the salty bacon? It was balancing all that sweet corn! This soup and salad combination was essentially dessert for dinner.

The strawberry salad really needs to be eaten alongside something strong and savory. Smoky dry rub barbecue, or a really good pork roast, or a hefty veggie burger. Not sweet corn soup.

So, play with the vinaigrette. It really is good. But keep your crunch ratio strong, and choose your main course wisely.

Make it a Meal:
Don’t bother — too much to fix. But if you’re doing the fixing (hearty romaine or endives, skip the avocado) I’d add some crispy crunchy protein — salty nuts, or sliced up fried chicken, or leftover pork chop.

Pack it to Go:
Again, don’t bother. Of course, if you’ve fixed the flaws, then pack your salad in a large glass or stainless steel container with a well fitting lid, and your dressing (including the strawberries, of course) in a large jar. If you dare to include avocado, put it in with the dressing to prevent browning. When you’re ready to eat, shake your dressing well, and drizzle it over the salad. Use a fork to fish out all of the strawberries. Use only as much dressing as you want. Fork toss, and enjoy.

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