Summer Salad with Oranges, Pecans and Feta Cheese
It is summer time and that means it is BBQ time. The warm weather lends itself well to casual, potluck style meals with family, friends and neighbors. And if you happen to have escaped the 'alphabetical, by last name' assignment to contribute either an appetizer, side dish, or dessert, I can highly recommend that you impress the rest of the group with this easy and delicious summer salad.
The taste is amazing. I particularly love the combination of sweet (mandarins, candied pecans) and savory (feta cheese, red onion) flavors. And the texture (a combination of crunchy candied pecans and lettuce, and soft cheese and mandarins) pleases even the pickiest of palates.
This recipe came to me from a curious, but reliable source. I first tasted it at a co-op preschool function where we opened our doors during a state-wide convention to showcase our curriculum and facility. We were selected to participate in a progressive dinner - the school before us provided an appetizer, and the schools after us followed with the main dish and dessert. Needless to say, we were looking to make a good impression with a simple, yet delicious salad.
A dedicated group of Moms prepared this salad in our school kitchen based on a recipe used at a winery in Napa. I was only given prep instructions verbally which I mention because the process is indeed very forgiving. A little more or less of any one ingredient will not make a difference. And it does not require any special tools apart from a cutting board, knife and peeler. Could not be easier.
A couple of pieces of advice from the chef during prep:
- I like to use the candied pecans available at Trader Joes. I find that they have the best taste and hold up well with all the wet ingredients.
- I like to use President feta cheese. This brand is available in the cheese aisle at Costco and is hands down not only the best value, but also the best taste. Crumbled, creamy, ready to use.
- The poppy seed dressing has to be from the brand Marie's. No other brand substitutes as well as the original. It can usually be found in a refrigerated section near the produce aisle of your supermarket.
And finally, a note related to enjoying this salad. We have served it equally as a side dish with chicken or beef, or as a main dish accompanied with fresh bread. A glass of white wine, in either case, is a nice accompaniment.
- 1 head romaine lettuce, washed and cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 small basket cherry tomatoes, washed
- 1 cucumber, peeled, sliced and cut in half
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1-2 package(s) candied pecans
- 8-12 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 1-2 cans Mandarin oranges, drained
- 1/2 jar Marie's Poppy Seed dressing
- Wash and tear romaine lettuce into bite size pieces. If you are in a rush, a package of pre-washed and pre-cut romaine lettuce is a great substitute.
- Cut red onion into a small dice. Adjust amount to your taste.
- Combine lettuce and red onion. Mix and cover. I find that doing so a little ahead of time (30 minutes) allows the lettuce to absorb some of the red onion flavor, thereby enhancing the flavor of the overall salad.
- Wash and dry tomatoes. Add to lettuce mix. I find that using whole cherry tomatoes works best because the juice of the tomatoes does not drain into the lettuce. This is important for both taste and presentation.
- Peel and slice cucumber, then cut each slice in half (into the shape of a semi-circle). Seeding the cucumber is not necessary. Add to lettuce mix.
- Add candied pecans to lettuce mix. Crumble into smaller pieces, if necessary.
- Add feta cheese to lettuce mix.
- Add mandarin oranges. Adjust amount to your taste.
- Add poppy seed dressing. Mix carefully (so as not to damage the mandarin oranges) and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Serve and enjoy.