i was at oddfellows just a week ago for dinner and i ordered a salad that i've thought about every day since. it was a simple salad of mixed greens, roasted baby beets, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and blue cheese, dressed in a strawberry balsamic vinaigrette. i almost didn't order it. i've had my fill of roasted beet + nut + cheese salads and i can't remember the last time i enjoyed a fruit-based dressing as much as a tart one. but it was a fantastic salad and it stood out for two reasons: the strawberry dressing was thick with the pulp of fresh, ripe summer strawberries (not some overly-sweet thin, strained dressing using just their juice), and the cheese…well, this is the best cheese discovery i've made in a long time. geai bleu, where have you been all my life? new brunswick, apparently.
since becoming obsessed with this cheese i've learned that the unique salty notes in geai blue (which i think translates to blue jay) are due to the herds grazing on sea salt touched grasses of the nb coast. i found this description that perfectly describes the taste: sharp with fruity notes and a hint of wild honey. it's that sweetness in this cheese that makes me love it–a nice compliment to the sharpness, just the way eating blue with a little honey or chutney is a perfect combo. it also plays well with the sweetness of the fruity dressing in this salad. for my dressing, i used blueberries which i just prefer to strawberries when it comes to flavour, at least here in canada. wild blueberry season has not disappointed here (the way some others have. i'm talking to you, tomatoes!) but i'm still not finding wild strawberries with as much flavour as i have in europe and i think i'm forever spoiled. plus i like that this is a salad of blues. next time i might make this with a dark leaf lettuce for an even inkier salad. but don't let me hold you back. you can use whichever ripe, sweet berry you'd like.
summer salad with pepitas, blueberry vinaigrette and geai bleu
80 grams (about 3 oz.) of geai bleu cheese, cut into 8 slices
6 cups mixed young greens (spring lettuce, spinach or other mild-flavoured greens), washed and well dried
about a dozen large grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1/4 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup ripe blueberries (wild blueberries if possible)
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs good balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
in a dry skillet, toast pepitas over low heat, stirring often, until they have started to turn golden. this will only take a couple of minutes so watch them carefully and make sure they don't burn. remove from heat and from skillet so they don't continue to toast.
in a bowl, mash blueberries with the back of a spoon until they are pureed. add oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, and whisk for 30 seconds until the dressing is well combined, slightly thickened and almost syrupy.
add leaves to a large bowl, pour dressing over top and toss well with your hands (or using utensils) until the leaves are well coated. add tomato pieces and toss again. serve salad onto plates, sprinkle with pepitas and top with two slices of geai bleu.