Back in October, a Dear Friend of mine came to visit for a long weekend. It gave me an excuse to take a couple of extra days off work, relax, reconnect with my pal, and generally eat my face off. After a fabulous few days, we found ourselves flopping down on the couch Saturday night around 2am, happy and exhausted from a long wonderous night of food, drink, hours of exuberant dancing, and eating lots of cheese. As is our way, we started chatting about what we should eat in the morning (one track mind much?). We were craving something lighter than what we'd been gorging on all weekend, something refreshing, redeeming... yet I wanted something that would still be hearty and filling, something to nourish and replenish me after our dance-a-thon, something that felt festive and special. Nothing TOO austere. So. I started thinking about a salad, but like a BRUNCH salad. Something with all the high-and-mighty-ness of salad but all the decadence of brunch. Bacon and eggs on a salad- but in a good way. Thus, the Brunch Salad was born. I whipped up that first version of my creation that next morning, and boy did it hit all the right notes. Light and crunchy, plenty of protein, and whole wheat bacon fat croutons. If a whole wheat bacon fat crouton isn't the perfect balance of virtuous and naughty, I don't know what is. I've made a number of variations on this theme, using sausage instead of bacon, adding leftover roasted potatoes, feta cheese, etc. They have all been great. In my humble opinion you really can't go wrong with this theme. The version I settled on for today is pretty darn close to the one we ate that first Sunday morning. I just had to spread the gospel of these bacon fat croutons. They are a MUST. Enjoy them with gusto!
This is also a great dish for December. December is such a tough month, especially if you're trying to eat healthy-ish at all. It seems like everywhere you turn there are cakes and cookies and pies and mountains and mountains of sugar and carbs being shoved into your face. Plus, unless you're lucky enough to live somewhere warm year round, this time of year is cold and dark and if you're anything like me all you want to do is bury your entire body in a vat of macaroni and cheese. Which frankly, I'm all for. But, if you wake up the next day with mornay in your hair and a wicked shame-over, make this salad. It's the perfect thing to balance you out.
Hang in there. You're doing great.
You will need:
for the salad:
glug of vinegar (white or whatever you have on hand)
3 slices of bacon (or more, I won't tell)
whole wheat bread (big chunk of a loaf or 2-3 thick slices)
salad greens of your choosing (I like a mix of greens for nice texture and flavor. Use whatever is your favorite)
sweet peppers (mini and or colorful are fun, use what ya like)
fresh tender herbs such as parsley, basil, cilantro
Start with the eggs. I like to make 6 at a time and stash whatever I don't use right away in the refrigerator for future snackage. You'll want at least 1-2 eggs per salad, more if you're insanely hungry- but again, it's nice to have leftovers here so make as large a batch as you like. When you've settled on a number of eggs, put them in a saucepan with cold water to cover by about an inch or so. Add a glug of vinegar- this is supposed to help the eggs become more peel-able when they're done. Not sure if I'm totally convinced on the necessity of this, but I'll take any help I can get when it comes to peeling eggs. Put the pot on the stove over high heat. Try to keep an eye on it as you continue with the recipe- when it starts boiling, turn off the heat and set a timer for 7 minutes. When the times goes off, drain the eggs and run cold water into the pot for several minutes, so they stop cooking. Set aside.
Meanwhile, start the bacon. I like to cook it up in my small (6”) cast iron pan, but any heavy bottomed pan will do. Cut the strips of bacon in half crosswise, and plop them in your pan over medium high heat. Cook, turning occasionally, until desired doneness. They will continue to crisp up a bit after being removed from the pan. When the bacon is looking good to you, remove to a paper towel lined plate. Set aside. Leave the precious bacon fat in the pan! Tear (don't cut- torn edges make for delicious crispiness) the bread into bite sized-ish chunks and toss into the pan with the bacon drippings. Keep the heat around medium/medium high- use your judgement here, you want it to be sizzling but not burning. Cook the croutons, stirring every minute or so, until they are crispy and crouton-y. Turn off heat, leave in pan until ready to serve.
To assemble the salad: prep your salad greens. Wash, cut if needed, etc. Pile a healthy amount of greens on two plates. Add veggies: I like thinly sliced carrot and sweet pepper (I use my mandolin for these, if you don't have one I strongly recommend you get one! Otherwise a sharp knife will do the trick), and a mix of thinly sliced radish and larger radish chunks. Feel free to adjust to your taste- if you hate peppers but love cucumbers, by all means switch it up. Cherry tomatoes and avocado would be lovely here as well. Whatever your veg preference, arrange desired vegetables on top of greens. Peel eggs and slice in half lengthwise. Add 1-2 eggs to each plate (as desired). Divide bacon between plates, breaking into bite sized pieces. Top with croutons and plenty of fresh herbs. I like to use kitchen scissors for this, cutting the herbs directly over the plate. Do the same with the green onions, using scissors to cut on the diagonal onto each plate.
Serve with Tabasco Vinaigrette, or your favorite dressing.
For the tobasco vinaigrette:
¼ cup tobasco
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
a dab of honey
2 cloves roasted garlic (optional)
toss everything into the blender and blitz thoroughly. Taste and check for seasoning- tobasco is plenty salty so you should be good, but feel free to add salt, pepper, or more tobasco, lime, or olive oil as desired. Dressing can be made up to a week ahead and stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. The olive oil will solidify and the dressing will separate in the refrigerator- just remove to the counter and let dressing warm up to room temperature, then shake vigorously before using.
Variation: The first time I made this I served it with an easy basil dressing: Toss a handful of basil in a blender, add the juice of a lemon (plus some lemon zest if you like), add a glug of olive oil and blitz. While blender is running, drizzle in more olive oil to taste. Check acidity balance by dipping a piece of lettuce into the dressing and tasting. I like my dressing on the acidic side but go with whatever balance you like! Both of these dressings are great with this salad, I only favor the tabasco dressing because the hot sauce and eggs combo feels extra brunchy.