by Steph Johnson
Spring in Alaska is an exciting and confusing time: daylight is back with a vengeance, the snow is starting to melt, and the craving for fresh food gets stronger with every additional minute of light. The confusing part? It’s still winter; we’ve got a month before the ground thaws, and cravings for heartier food show few signs of tempering. To answer the healthy-hearty cravings, my go-to is a dish that I unofficially refer to as a “Costco Salad.” As you might guess, you can find every ingredient at your friendly neighborhood warehouse. It’s not as sexy sounding as “farm fresh,” but in Alaska you learn to work with what you’ve got. Fortunately, Costco has a lot to offer.
Here’s what to put on your list:
— The baby kale, chard, and spinach mixed greens from Earthbound Farm Organics are a regularly stocked item at Costco. We use these greens on pizzas, in wraps, smoothies, and salads and have found them to last longer than other bulk greens (a huge plus for our family of two).
— Honeycrisp apples are sold in a plastic carton that holds 14 apples in mini domes. If you store your apples in the carton you can prolong their flavor and aroma. (As an added bonus, the apple carton makes a perfect seedling greenhouse.) You can use any type of apple, but the sweet and bright flavor of Honeycrisp is the best balance to the creaminess of the goat cheese and the saltiness of the bacon.
— The Kirkland goat cheese is sold as a conjoined two-pack. If you don’t go — through goat cheese quickly, it’s important to store it in an airtight container or wrap it snugly in plastic wrap. When exposed to too much air, that once enjoyable, gamey smell quickly rounds the corner into outright funkiness.
— Costco has several types of bacon but we prefer Fletcher’s in either maple or pepper-crusted. Both bacon varieties taste great in this salad, but when using the pepper-crusted variety you might want to adjust the quantity of peppercorns used in the dressing based on your personal preference. If you opt to add chicken and you are doing your shopping at Costco, go for the organic—compared to what organic meats can cost in smaller stores, it’s a relative steal and worth the money.
(No Costco card? Not a problem. Most of these ingredients can easily be found at regular grocery stores as well.)
Apple, Chevre, and Bacon Salad
If serving as an entree this recipe makes plenty for two but can serve up to four people as a side portion served with soup, bread, or another item. Total cooking time, including prep, 35 minutes. Garlic Vinaigrette recipe adapted from In The Green Kitchen by Alice Waters.
For the Garlic Vinaigrette:
1 Large garlic clove or 2 small garlic cloves
A large pinch of coarse sea salt
5-7 whole peppercorns
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
More salt and pepper to taste
*Parts of the vinaigrette are made with a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, you can still make the dressing with a few alterations. The beauty of this recipe is the flavor that seeps out of the garlic after it is pulverized and allowed to marinate in the red wine vinegar. You can use a garlic press or very finely minced garlic as an alternative, but you’ll need to increase the amount of time the garlic marinates in the vinegar. If you are open to one more kitchen tool, the mortar and pestle might surprise you in its usefulness!
For the Salad:
2 large handfuls of organic baby kale, chard, and spinach mix
1 honeycrisp apple
½ cup of crumbled goat cheese
5 strips of bacon
1 organic chicken breast (see note below)
1/4 cup chopped pistachios (especially good as an alternative to the bacon)
- Put peeled garlic clove(s) in a mortar and pestle with a large pinch of coarse sea salt and peppercorns. Pound the garlic, salt, and peppercorns until it creates a sticky paste and peppercorns are completely broken down. Avoid using a circular motion with the pestle; instead, use a pounding motion (the noisier the better) to mash the ingredients. Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar and garlic paste to sit for at least ten minutes. Set aside and allow garlic to soften in vinegar.
Tip: Start with a gentler grinding motion with the pestle when the ingredients are whole to avoid salt and peppercorns flying out of the mortar. When both the salt and peppercorns are slightly broken down, you can safely increase the mashing intensity without fear of losing ingredients.
- In a medium frying pan, cook bacon on medium high heat approximately 2-3 minutes on each side. Place cooked bacon on a paper towel lined plate and set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Chop apple and bacon. The size of the pieces are up to you, but I prefer pieces to be about the size of a postage stamp.
- In the mortar, stir vinegar and garlic paste together with a fork until loosely combined. Slowly add olive oil while continuing to stir. Using a green leaf from your salad, taste the dressing and adjust salt and pepper as desired, but keep in mind that you might be adding more cracked pepper to the salad later. Pay particular attention to the viscosity of the vinaigrette. The dressing should be oily and slowly drip from the leaf. If it is too thin, add more oil and stir to recombine. Transfer all of the dressing into a large empty bowl, using a few leafy greens as your spatula.
- With clean hands add the salad greens and toss together with the vinaigrette until leaves are lightly coated. (If the idea of getting wrist deep in your salad makes you uncomfortable, tossing with kitchen tongs also works. Using your hand allows a gentler handling of the greens and also gives you a better feel [literally] for how evenly coated the salad greens are.)
- Add chopped bacon, apples, and goat cheese and toss again to incorporate.
Tip: The longer your goat cheese package has been opened or exposed to air the harder it becomes to crumble, as it tends to get sticky and smear, making it difficult to evenly incorporate into a salad. If this is the case or if you prefer a creamier salad, add the crumbled goat cheese directly on top of the dressing, rather than tossing it with the other ingredients. The acid in the vinaigrette will continue to slightly break down some of the goat cheese, adding a nice creamy coating when you toss the salad and fewer smeary globs.
- Portion salad on plates and serve.Optional: Adding a chopped chicken breast to the salad makes it even heartier, and is a good option if your salad will be the main course. I like to use the same pan the bacon was fried in—after it has been drained of the grease—to cook the chicken. It sounds hedonistic to be sure, but the flavor is worth it and your grandma would be proud. The chicken breast packages usually come with two breasts per pack and I cook both, reserving the second one for a meal later in the week. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts and set aside on a plate before frying your bacon. In this rendition, use a slightly lower temperature (medium) and slightly longer cook time (4-5 minutes on each side) to avoid overly burned bits in the pan. When done cooking your bacon, drain the fat and lightly wipe out the pan You want to leave thin coating of bacon grease in the pan for the chicken. Return the pan to medium heat and add chicken breasts, cooking for 2-3 minutes on each side. Turn off the burner and cover the chicken, allowing it to rest for an additional 5-7 minutes. Chop chicken into cubes and add to the salad along with bacon, apples, and goat cheese. Toss lightly before serving and enjoy!
Stephanie Johnson spends the vast majority of her time running. Sometimes it’s long distances for fun with her dog, Jacques Frederick Mugnier. Other times, it’s laps around the Bear Tooth Theatrepub & Grill as the General Manager (she also co-owns Dos Manos, a funky Spenard boutique that has a tower). She loves food, and would eat it every day if she could. Put a glass of good pinot in one hand, an extra-tiny cup of coffee in the other, and, wait…which hand is going to hold the popcorn?
*City Kitchen is a series of recipe blog posts contributed by community members, including my food journalism class at UAA.