As a kid, I thought salad was the food women ate to punish themselves into dropping a few pounds. I used to eat French fries with a knife and fork to pretend I was eating salad, just to feel like a grown-up.
I clearly had a lot to learn, including the fact that a well-made salad is one of life’s great pleasures.
The best salads are built on a foundation of contrasts: warm and cool, creamy and crunchy, sweet and tangy, laced with a nice amount of saltiness and fat, piled atop the bounty of whatever season.
Not every salad is meant to be an entree, of course, but this one is. Steak (warm) and greens (cool), avocado (creamy) and pecans (crunchy), sweet potatoes (sweet) and apple-cider vinaigrette (tangy). You get the picture. It has it all, and comes together quickly, and is beefy enough for those who roll their eyes at salad to pipe down and dig in.
(For the record, even though I didn’t include it here, I really enjoy iceberg lettuce, which is oft-aligned, but has a pleasant crunchiness and distinct flavor. I particularly dig a good steakhouse wedge salad, piled high with crispy bacon, sweet cherry tomatoes, and a Roquefort dressing that could put hair on one’s chest, as my grandfather used to say.)
Steak salad just begs for a gorgeous glass of wine, so I asked sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusee Wine for a suggestion. Her pick: the Crios Cabernet from Mendoza, Argentina. Leslee says, “The roast-y and very unctuous notes of Stephanie’s recipe this week deserve a round, voluptuous red to pair for just the perfect combination of flavors. Intense, with enticing aromas of ripe black plum, blackberry, and currant, this wine will pair perfectly to the blue cheese notes of the salad, yet not overwhelm the clean, fresh flavors of the garden vegetables on the plate. The textured dark fruit flavors of the wine join nicely to the wine’s subtle accents of dark chocolate, giving way to vibrant tannins accenting its beautiful structure and amazingly long finish. This should pair beautifully to almost every accoutrement on the plate. My favorite part…all this, for just under $15. A great ‘bang for your buck’ kind of wine!”
Fall Steak Salad with Sweet Potatoes, Avocado & Maple Vinaigrette
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 Tbsp. maple syrup, divided
6 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 lb. flatiron or sirloin steak
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. crumbled blue cheese, plus more for garnish
freshly ground black pepper
6 c. torn romaine leaves
1/2 c. thinly sliced red onions
1/2 c. thinly sliced radishes
1 small cucumber, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 avocados, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 c. toasted pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine sweet potatoes, 2 Tbsp. of the maple syrup, 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil, and 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt. Toss to coat the sweet potatoes, then pour the sweet potatoes onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, scraping the oil and syrup from the bowl over the potatoes. Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring a few times, until tender and browned in spots. Set aside.
While the potatoes roast, season the steak lightly with salt. Grill, broil, or pan-fry the steak to desired doneness. Let the steak rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes, then slice very thinly against the grain.
In a small bowl, whisk together 4 Tbsp. of olive oil, 2 Tbsp. of maple syrup, cider vinegar, shallots, thyme, and 2 Tbsp. of the blue cheese. Mash the cheese into the vinaigrette, then season the vinaigrette to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To assemble the salad: Divide the greens among 6 plates. Add red onions, radishes, cucumber, and avocado. Top with squash, steak, and toasted pecans. Drizzle with vinaigrette and garnish with additional blue cheese. Serve immediately.