Tender greens topped with roast pears, spiced nuts, and a sultry vanilla vinaigrette would make a gorgeous addition to your holiday table.
There’s an ice cream stand not too far from our house that has the most amazing selection. My standard order is one scoop of cajun strawberry and one scoop of horchata on a chocolate cookie cone. It’s so good – but what else would you expect from an ice cream place that literally serves six different varieties of vanilla? They definitely understand the nuances of flavor.
We usually associate vanilla with sweet recipes, but it’s warm, musky flavor is just as suitable for savory dishes. When Nielsen-Massey challenged me to create a side dish featuring vanilla, it didn’t take me very long to brainstorm a whole page of ideas. I finally settled on this simple salad topped with vanilla vinaigrette. It would be lovely on your Thanksgiving table or as part of your holiday meal, or you can add prosciutto and serve it as a light lunch.
Vanilla is featured throughout this recipe – it’s in the butter that I used to roast the pears, on the spiced nuts, and in the vinaigrette. Although bourbon vanilla (what you probably have in your baking cabinet) would be fine for this salad, it’s a great reason to try out a different variety. I chose to use Nielsen-Massey’s Mexican vanilla, which has a deep, earthy flavor and a slightly spicy undertone similar to cloves. It’s delicious in sweet recipes, but it really shines in savory recipes (try adding a splash to your favorite tomato soup!)
The pears and spiced pecans in this salad contribute a sweetness that makes the vanilla seem warm and familiar, but spicy greens, creamy cheese, and plenty of freshly cracked black pepper keep thing firmly on the savory side of the flavor spectrum. I like to serve it on mâche (also known as lamb’s lettuce), a tender green with a mildly spicy, nutty flavor. You could also use a mild lettuce, like butter lettuce, mixed with endive.
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Mexican Vanilla Extract
- 2 firm pears
- 1/2 cup halved pecans
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Mexican Vanilla Extract
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
- 8 cups mâche or other tender salad greens
- 2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
- 2 ounces prosciutto (optional)
- Heat your oven to 400ºF.
- Add the butter to a small baking pan and place it in the oven for a minute or two, until melted. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
- Cut each pear into 6 sections; remove and discard the stem and seeds. Place the pears, cut side down, into the melted butter. Roast 10-15 minutes, or until the pears are soft and begin to brown at the edges. Use a slotted spatula to remove the pears from the pan, reserving the vanilla butter.
- Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and roast for 6-8 minutes, or until toasted. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the vanilla butter and stir to coat. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne pepper, coating the nuts evenly. Let cool.
- Meanwhile, prepare the vanilla vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To serve, toss the salad greens with 1/4 cup of vinaigrette. Divide among four plates. Top with pear slices, spiced nuts, and cheese. Top with prosciutto, if using. Serve with remaining vinaigrette.
I created this recipe for my client, Nielsen-Massey. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep me inspired in the kitchen and help bring you creative new recipes.