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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spinach Salad with Roasted Sweet Potato, Goat Cheese & Candied Nuts

Ok, so it's been a little while. With the spring season in full swing, the energy level in NYC has noticeably increased. The streets are busier, the winter jackets have finally been stored and green markets are bustling. All of this increase in activity and availability of spring produce has also ushered in the busy season at the restaurant. The outdoor garden is in high demand and the soft shell crabs and rose have been flying off the menu. I'm thrilled that we've been especially busy lately, however I find myself particularly challenged now to maintain a healthy work/personal life balance and, hence, a work/blogging balance.

It's hectic periods like this when I fall into a regular routine of picking up a standard list of items while grocery shopping. Like everyone else, I have a few keys foods that I'm very comfortable with. My produce standards include mushrooms, kale, spinach and arugula. A week doesn't go by without me using one, or all, of these ingredients. The busier I get, the easier it is for me to run to the market, pick up the usual suspects, and throw together a quick meal that I've made a million times before. But the last time I was at the market, I forced myself to pick up a few things that are not on my aforementioned weekly shopping list, including a big green market tote filled with sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes store well and are available almost every month of the year, yet I don't cook with them all that often (but I know that I should). They pack even more of a nutritional punch then the white potato. They are rich is vitamin A, vitamin C , dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates. Plus, just like the good ol' white potato, they can be prepared using a variety of different methods (baked whole, mashed, pureed into a soup, roasted, etc).
I've been on a major salad kick lately, so that's the direction I ended up going in. I roasted the sweet potatoes in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and then tossed the roasted cubes with melted butter, brown sugar and cayenne pepper. I dressed baby spinach leaves with an easy rosemary vinaigrette and then gently tossed in the roasted sweet potato, candied nuts and earthy crumbled goat cheese. It turned out to be a perfectly satisfying and balanced meal. And when I say 'balanced', I don't mean in a food pyramid way (meat, veggie, starch), I'm referring to flavor, texture and appearance. I love this salad as much as I do because it is salty, sweet and savory, crunchy and creamy and boasts varying colors and an appetizing appearance. And, as often happens when cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients, it just so happens to be nutritionally balanced as well.

A quick note on the nuts that the recipe calls for: I of course prefer to make my own (my recipe is included below), but sometimes that just doesn't happen. When I don't have the time, I look for high quality brand like Bobby Sue's Organic Nuts. For those of you in the NY area, you can find Bobby Sue's nuts at Whole Foods, Murray's Cheese Shop and a host of other specialty stores.

Spinach Salad with Roasted Sweet Potato, Goat Cheese & Candied Nuts

4 servings

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into cubes
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 c. baby spinach
4 oz. fresh goat cheese
2/3 c. candied nuts (recipe below)
1/4 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely minced
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss cubed sweet potatoes with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and pepper on a large baking sheet. Roast 25 minutes until tender and a little caramelized.

When the sweet potatoes are done roasting, melt butter in a small skillet. Whisk in brown sugar and cayenne pepper. As soon as the sugar and cayenne pepper is incorporated, remove from heat and pour over roasted sweet potatoes. Toss gently.

Make dressing by combining minced rosemary with balsamic vinegar. Gradually whisk in olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss spinach leaves, nuts and sweet potatoes in dressing and serve topped with crumbled goat cheese.

Candied Nuts
1 pound nuts (pecans, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, or a combination thereof)
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 egg white
1 Tbs. water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon and cayenne pepper in small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together egg white and water until frothy. Stir in nuts and toss well to coat. Sprinkle in sugar mixture and toss until nuts are evenly covered.

Spread nuts in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking dish. Bake 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. After they have cooled, break up any nuts that have stuck together.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.


  1. Rachel, great recipe! The goat cheese was just the right addition. Grandpa liked it alot!

  2. Thanks! So glad everyone (especially Grandpa!!) liked it. I love the goat cheese in this too, I think it really does balance out the flavors and textures in the dish.