A confession, the salad above is not the one in this post.
But the salad recipe in this post is a salad worthy of your attention. And I had a nice still life ready for you, strawberry salad enthusiast, to get you motivated and excited about attacking the windfall of fresh leafy greens that are so prime in late Spring and early Summer. Arugula, spinach, Boston, berries, you name it, it’s all the rage right now.

And I hope you have it in you to excuse the above photo…it’s actually another salad from Viva Vegan! (the “summer” version of the traditional Mexican Noche Buena salad), a photo I didn’t end up using. Why the photo switch? I’m a recent member of the tribe of DIY food photography. I stepped up my game this past December and bought a slammin’ entry-level digital interchangible lense camera (a Sony SLTA33), and since I’ve been infected with a case of “take a photo of that food before you cram it into your face”, something that works out great most of the time.

But this time something happened. All those shots of pretty greens and fruits and poppy seeds, at least 30 something photos, went “poof”. Not audibly, just not in my camera when I was ready to download them a day after the shoot. Like a crime scene detective I’ve replayed the scenario a dozen times in my head: memory card in, viewfinder confirmed, recalling some photos even selected and just a few deleted. I swear they were there! Now, all gone. But not older shots from previous days. Did I somehow find that mystery feature that deletes only photos taken in the past 48 hours? In my hunger (I’m always too hungry when doing food shots), did I press the wrong thing? I may never know, so I’ll just let it go (it’s been a few days so I’m feeling zen about it).

Lesson learned: get those photos off the camera right away. And consider a new memory card too. It was annoying and a little disheartening, but it was just stuff for a blog post, only roughly “styled” in a few minutes. Not something labored over or for publication purposes. That’s a heart attack moment I’ll hopefully never need to have after this practice run.

Anyway, enough with that. Let’s talk about this salad!

The dressing is intensely fruity–great for kids and salad-doubting adults with a sweet tooth–from a secret ingredient: orange juice concentrate. It adds zesty orange flavor without watering down the dressing, plus a touch of minced shallots and poppy seeds adds additional depth. I love using this dressing as a marinade for baked tofu to turn the salad into an entree.

The agave glazed pecans are a little showy for a weeknight meal (toasted pecans are perfectly fine), but ideal if you want to pull out all the stops for salad. Just remember if you’re photographing the whole affair and your camera decides to play games with your photos (and heart), I’ve been there too. The pics may be lost, but at least we know we’ve eaten some damned good salad.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Orange Poppy Seed Dressing
serves 4 as a starter salad, 2 as a entree salad

The ingredient list may look long, but most of the work is chopping vegetables and most of the time is inactive with tofu marinating and baking.

The poppy seed dressing does double duty; a light fruity vinaigrette and as a marinade for a grilled protein for an entree salad. If you prefer to skip making the tofu, substitute purchased flavored, baked tofu. Steamed, cubed tempeh can be substituted for tofu.

Make ahead tip:
The dressing can be made and stored in the fridge up to 4 days in advance, along with the tofu. Store washed, spun dry greens in a green bag for up to a week.

Dressing, double if using as a marinade
3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, semi thawed
2 tablespoons olive oil or grape seed oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, rice vinegar or lime juice
2 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup
1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste
freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 shallot, peeled and finely minced

Baked Poppyseed Tofu
1 lb extra firm tofu, sliced into 8 horizontal slices
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Poppy seed Dressing, half of a doubled recipe
additional oil for brushing

1 cup pecan halves
2 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes or more to taste
sea salt

8 cups salad greens such as: baby mixed greens, spinach, arugula, red leaf lettuce, Boston lettuce, butter lettuce, etc.
3 cups of a mix of the following: Sliced strawberries, bite sized pineapple pieces, blueberries, papaya, apples
1 medium red onion, peeled, sliced in half and sliced into paperthin half circles
¾ cup toasted pecan pieces or walnuts

For the dressing whisk together all of the ingredients in a large glass measuring cup until well blended. If doubling the dressing, reserve half of the dressing for the salad and set aside the other half for the tofu.

Make the pecans: in a small skillet heat agave over medium heat until bubbling, then stir in pecans to coat with syrup. Sprinkle with chile flakes and continue to stir until pecans are toasted and syrup has turned into a dark brown glaze over the nuts. Remove from heat and spread nuts on a lightly greased baking sheet or a silicon mat; sprinkle with sea salt as desired. Let cool then roughly chop.

If preparing the tofu, press it first for half an hour to remove excess moisture. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly oil a 9 x 7 ceramic baking pan. Slice each piece of tofu diagonally to form triangles, then layer in the pan. Pour marinade over and let sit for 15 minutes, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, flip tofu over and brush any marinade from the pan on top of tofu. Return to oven and bake another 20 minutes. Turn oven off, remove from oven and flip tofu one more time. Let cool as you prepare the rest of the salad. Wash, spin dry and tear the greens into bite sized pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl, add the fruit, onion slices and and warm tofu triangles. Pour on dressing and use tongs to toss everything and coat evenly with dressing. Sprinkle with pecans and serve!