Sweet Potato-Pear Salad with Walnuts and Potato Crisps

>> Monday, February 3, 2014

Sweet Potato-Pear Salad with Walnuts and Potato Crisps

Ah, this salad fills many of my happy places: sweet and sour, crunch and mellow, nuts, fruits, spice, and tangy fennel vinaigrette. It's a satisfying winter salad recipe I developed from a banquet I attended a week ago.

Last weekend we stayed overnight on Chicago's Magnificent Mile for Joe's company's annual awards banquet. Tucked in between skyscrapers and Water Tower Place, just around the corner from Pizzeria Uno and Due, The John B. Murphy Auditorium was a former mansion turned surgeons club turned banquet venue. It's gorgeous inside and out.

Our banquet was on the second level, where a gorgeous stained glass window shone above a rank of ornately carved wooden thrones. It gave a rather Gothic effect, and I imagine many a young surgeon once trembled under the stern looks of the robed chief surgeons glaring down from this platform. Of course, later in the night the chief executives of Joe's company used these chairs to pose for photos.

John B. Murphy Auditorium, Chicago

This sweet potato-pear salad was one of the most memorable bits of the evening for me, food lover that I am. I was seated at a table with elderly couples who were all talking shop: investment funds and insurance minutiae. I wrote a short story in my head and formulated a recipe for this salad.

Unfortunately, the caterer had some unspecified problem with the rest of dinner and our entrees arrived nearly an hour after the tables in the front had been served. Our poor server was sweating as she faithfully filled our water glasses over and over while waiting for our food to arrive. Later during the mingling time I made friends with the photographer, the bartender, and the band, who knew every song The Carpenters and Anne Murray ever recorded. Thanks to my mom, I knew all the songs too.

So about this salad. A little cinnamon on steamed fruits and potato, a light fennel vinaigrette, toasted walnuts and some crispy potato flakes are about all you need, and you'll crave this over and over. It's filling enough for lunch, and the fruit/vegetable combo is perfect for a satisfying winter salad. If you want to listen to Anne Murray songs while you're eating it, I can recommend a few favorites.


For the dressing

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 drops hot sauce
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/2 tsp white pepper

For the salad

1 cup sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 cup pear, cored and cubed
1 cup Red Delicious apple, cored and cubed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sweet potato, shredded
1/4 cup oil
6 cups mixed baby greens
1/3 cup shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese


In a screw top jar, shake together the dressing ingredients. Hold at room temperature.

Microwave or steam the cubed potato, pear, and apple. The sweet potato will take a bit longer to steam than the fruit, so add the fruit after the potato is becoming tender. Toss the fruit with the cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a dry skillet, toast the walnuts on medium heat, shaking constantly, about 5 minutes, or until the nuts are slightly toasted and fragrant. Set aside. Heat the oil in the skillet on medium-high heat, then fry the shredded potato until crisp but not browned. Drain on paper towels.

Arrange the baby salad greens on four serving plates. Sprinkle the potatoes and fruit on the greens, then top with the walnuts, potato crisps, and cheese. Pass the dressing.

Makes 4 large salads.


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