An unmistakable perfume is in the air: the intoxicating vapors of resiny cedar, sweet applewood, sexy mesquite and reliable ol' hick'ry, arising from grills and escaping from smokers on every block and in every park. Brats are sizzling, hot dogs plumping, chicken breasts marinating, hamburgers being seasoned. And he-men and she-women can barely wait to tuck into perfectly seared T-bones, dry-aged Porterhouses, smoky brisket, even refined filets mignons.
In steakhouses, spinach, typically creamed, is a traditional accompaniment for steak. This is because steak demands to be in the company of strong flavors, and spinach -- among the most assertive of greens in both texture and taste -- delivers. So, as grilling season commences, Slashfood reminds you to eat your spinach. Beyond the jump is an original recipe for a spinach salad that's nothing like the oily, eggy cafeteria staple; gilded with lemon and oregano and with a smoky bacon crunch that resonates with food from the grill. C'mon, give it a try -- it'll please both your mother and Popeye!
Spinach Salad with Bacon, Charred Onion and Feta
This recipe works equally well with fresh spinach and pre-packaged baby spinach. Fresh spinach will have a more assertive flavor, but you'll want to clean and dry it early in the day. Buy your feta from the deli case, a cheese shop or a specialty grocer where they slice it fresh after removing it from a bath of salt water -- never buy dry feta.
For the Dressing
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano
Sea salt (Greek is ideal)
Freshly ground black pepper
For the Salad
2-3 bunches fresh spinach or one large bag organic baby spinach
1 medium red onion
4 slices bacon
1/3 pound block fresh feta
1. If using fresh spinach, hack off the roots (if attached) and tough lower stems. Clean each bunch under running cold water until the leaves no longer feel gritty. Spin dry.
2. Fry the bacon in a sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 10 minutes.
3. While the bacon is frying, peel the onion and set the inner core aside for another use. Slice the onion in half from stem end to root end. Lay each half cut side down, and slice across each half to form half-moons.
4. Peel the cucumber and then cut off each end. Cut in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Lay each half cut side down, and slice across each half to form half-moons.
5. Halve and juice the lemons (we like to roll them on the countertop first, for easier juicing). Measure 4 tablespoons juice into a small bowl; add vinegar. Strip the oregano leaves into the bowl; add salt to taste and several grindings of fresh black pepper. Slowly whisk olive oil into the bowl to form an emulsion; set aside to serve with the salad.
6. Once the bacon is cooked, set the strips on a double layer of paper towels. Pour the rendered fat from the skillet so that the skillet is dry except for the browned bits on the bottom. Add the onion and cook, stirring quickly with a wooden spoon, until the onion gives off its fragrance and has picked up the browned bits. This should take no longer than a minute; you want to char the onion without cooking it down.
7. When ready to serve, place the dried spinach into a large bowl. Crumble the bacon and, using your hands, gently toss the spinach with the bacon, the halved cucumber and the charred onion.
8. Cut the feta into strips; it will begin to crumble as you cut. Sprinkle the feta across the top of the salad.
9. Serve with lemon vinaigrette on the side.