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Published November 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Holiday Spinach Salad showcases colors of the season

Every year at this time, I would sit with my dad at the kitchen table. He’d pull out his pocket knife and score the thick ruby skin of the fruit. Then he’d use his fingers to pull the pomegranate apart, red juice squirting everywhere.

By: Sue Doeden, Bemidji Pioneer

Every year at this time, I would sit with my dad at the kitchen table. He’d pull out his pocket knife and score the thick ruby skin of the fruit. Then he’d use his fingers to pull the pomegranate apart, red juice squirting everywhere. And every year, I’d be amazed at the uniqueness of the inside of the pomegranate. I imagined it resembled the inside of an ant hill, with tunnels running every which way. One by one, my dad and I would pick out the juicy seeds, and we would pop them right into our mouths. As we snacked on the crunchy seeds, we’d visit. I can’t remember what our conversations were about. It didn’t matter. It was this alone-time with my dad that remains a cherished memory.

I’m sure my dad wasn’t sharing a pomegranate with me for the health benefits. He had no idea that those ruby pomegranate seeds we munched together would one day be touted as a superfruit. These days the pomegranate is known to hold high levels of powerful natural antioxidants, with loads of vitamin C and potassium that can help keep us healthy.

Fresh pomegranate season is short and falls perfectly within our holiday season. You can remove the juicy seeds by hand. If you’d rather not mess with the juicy fruit, fresh seeds can be found packaged in the produce department of some supermarkets. I’ve even seen the seeds in bags in the freezer case. Frozen seeds get a bit mushy when thawed, so for this salad, I recommend using fresh pomegranate seeds.

The jewel-like seeds make an everyday salad holiday special. Holiday Spinach Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette is beautiful as well as delicious and healthful. Every bite of this simple, crisp salad literally bursts with flavor. With each bite, you’ll get a splash of juice from apples, pears and pomegranate, and a crunch of toasted pecans. Crumbled bits of blue cheese are a perfect flavor and texture pairing for this salad. Cranberry Vinaigrette is spiced with just a bit of cinnamon that leaves a hint of its flavor lingering in the mouth with each bite of salad. Tart and sweet, fresh and colorful all on one plate.

To save time on the day you serve Holiday Spinach Salad, the spinach can be washed and spun dry a day ahead, wrapped loosely with paper towels and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. The pomegranate can be seeded and the pecans can be toasted ahead of time, too. Prepare the vinaigrette in a jar and store it in the refrigerator.

Go get a plump, round pomegranate while you can. Grab a child to share it with. Nibble on the seeds as you visit together. Save some of the seeds to sprinkle on a salad the two of you toss up. You’ll be creating much more than a salad.

I’m so glad those packaged pomegranate seeds weren’t available when I was a child.

Holiday Spinach Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette

Cranberry Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Salad:
Fresh baby spinach leaves (about 1 pound), rinsed and dried
2 fresh ripe pears, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
2 crispy tart apples, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
Pecans, toasted
Blue cheese, crumbled
Seeds from 1 to 2 pomegranates

Prepare vinaigrette by pouring cranberry juice into a jar or deep bowl. Add vinegar, lemon juice, honey, mustard and cinnamon. Cover jar and shake or whisk to blend in a bowl. Add canola to the jar, cover and shake. Or, slowly whisk the oil into mixture in bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large salad bowl, toss spinach leaves with just enough Cranberry Vinaigrette to coat the leaves. Don’t drown them.

Plate the spinach on individual dishes. Arrange remaining ingredients, in amounts you prefer, on the spinach. Serve immediately.

Tips from the cook

--I like to chill the salad plates in the freezer. The plate will look frosty when you serve the salad. The salad will stay cold and fresh as it is eaten.

--If you begin assembling this salad with about a pound of spinach, you will easily get 8 servings.

--The salad ingredients can all be tossed together in a large bowl and guests can serve themselves.

--Toast pecans in a shallow baking pan in 350-degree oven until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes.

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