To be fair — and we're not sure how we feel about admitting this — we could have named it the "Top Chef-Inspired Salad," since the urge to add rice came from last week's episode. But our version is nothing like the one on TV, and it was so hearty and complex that we felt the need to tack on almost every ingredient to the title... It's nice to have a few salad recipes that can serve as main dishes, and the rice in this one makes it especially filling. A big forkfull of tender leaves with little piles of rice, sweet dates, and crunchy nuts was the perfect combination of flavors and textures.
We've had rice salads (no lettuce) that include fruit and nuts, which prompted us to add dates, a nice, meaty alternative to dried cranberries or raisins, and cashews, which are smooth and buttery and blended well with the other ingredients. And as for the chickpeas, we just wanted more protein and they fit in without taking over. There's also some chopped celery in there for a fresh crunch.The dressing is a simple one, just a basic balsamic vinaigrette with some brown sugar. We like sweet dressings, and the brown sugar highlighted the dates. But you could certainly use a citrus vinaigrette. For other interpretations, play around with different combinations of nuts and fruit — or add bacon! For non-vegetarians, we think bacon would taste amazing in here.
We used Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley, which had some wild rice and other grains mixed in, but any wild or brown rice will do. Even spelt would be good.
One caveat: We made this in a family member's kitchen that lacks some basic measuring cups, so some of our measurements are approximate, but this isn't a recipe that calls for exact science... Experiment!
Rice and Mixed Greens Salad with Dates, Cashews, and Chickpeas
serves 4 to 6 as a main course
For the salad:
1 cup Trader Joes Brown Rice Medley or wild rice
5 ounces mixed or baby greens (about 6 big handfuls), washed and dried
1 cup chickpeas (we used about 3/4 of a 14-ounce can), drained and rinsed
8 dried dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup roasted cashews
2 large celery ribs (or 3 smaller celery hearts), chopped
For the vinaigrette:
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Cook the rice according to the package directions. Set aside to cool slightly (you don't want the hot rice to wilt the lettuce).
Make the vinaigrette. In a large bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil while whisking, until the dressing is slightly thick and all the olive oil is incorporated.
Add the greens to the bowl and toss to coat. Then add the chickpeas, dates, cashews, celery, and rice. Toss gently until all the ingredients are combined. Serve immediately.
(All images: Elizabeth Passarella)