Sometimes I really miss working in an office. Did I just say that? The florescent lighting was terrible and the décor was worse, but I do miss the camaraderie. When I left that job nearly a year ago, I left behind an endearing weekly lunch event with three coworkers. We called it Salad Club. Every Thursday one of us prepared and served a salad for the others. It was glorious. These women were in touch with their vegetables, vinegars, and other accoutrements. The salad flowed, bowls and bowls of it, along with great conversation, and I miss that.

This Labor Day, I’d like to pay homage to good times at work by sharing a salad recipe that was a big hit with the Salad Club. The flavor combinations are citrusy and savory, robust and refreshing.  It’s time consuming to make—caramelized onions, guys—but so worth it. It’s a great dinner party salad, too.

Caramelized Onion and Grapefruit Salad

Ingredients
Caramelized onions:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dressing:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salad:
2 pink grapefruits
1 head romaine lettuce, thinly sliced or torn into 1-inch pieces
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
3 scallions, finely sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

For the caramelized onions: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.

For the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, lemon juice and honey. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until blended. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

For the salad: Peel and trim the ends from each grapefruit. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and add them to a large salad bowl. Add the lettuce, fennel, cucumber, scallions, and thyme.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Arrange the caramelized onions on top and serve.

*Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

Caesar salads have always felt like the junk food of the salad world, am I right? From the super creamy mayo dressing to the croutons and bacon bits (a delicious Canadian tradition I believe) it’s more like a vehicle for a heart attack. Yet as a longtime vegetarian in a time before that was widespread, it was an easy go-to for me in most restaurants. Hold the bacon, of course.

With time though, and with my ongoing omnivore’s dilemna (eggs or no eggs, meat or no meat, no fish, wait maybe a bit of fish, or nothing, or lately a bit of everything…) I’ve come to develop a recipe that is both healthier and which can be made vegan or vegetarian in a snap—to very delicious results.

Base Dressing (this should be enough for a small head of romaine):

—1 tbsp dijon

—1 tbsp Vegenaise (try the new soy-free one!)

—Juice of half a lemon

—1 tsp of caper brine (and capers if you like them)

—2 tbsp olive oil

—lots of pepper (wait to salt because of caper juice and also if you add parm, you may not need it)

—a clove of crushed garlic

—a small splash of Tobasco (optional but really adds something, even if you’re not a spice person)

Vegan Version

For extra umami and some protein I like to add about a teaspoon or so of nutritional yeast right into the dressing and then sometimes more on top. Toasted pine nuts can also help make this salad into a bit more of a meal (especially with the croutons). This Parma stuff, that is made with walnuts, nutrional yeast and various seasonings is also pretty darn good.

Vegetarian Version

Nothing really beats the taste of a high-quality parmesan, whether you prefer it shaved or finely grated. I like both, so I sometimes add a little grated right into the dressing (so that it’s sure to coat) and then some bigger shaved chunks too. My husband likes putting feta to his caesar—a super weird but super yummy choice for you cheese lovers out there (again if you’re making this salad into a meal, that bulks it up a bit).

Croutons

I often make this salad sans croutons but boy does it taste good when I go the extra mile. I’ll use whatever bread is around (including Ezekiel or something gluten-free depending on company), chop it into little cubes, throw some olive oil, butter (or a combo) in a pan with another clove of crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Then toss the bread in there making sure it’s coated, and cook on medium to low heat for 10-15 minutes. The trick is cooking the bread long enough to let it get crunchy, without burning it.

Toss it all together (don’t over-toss though, romaine gets soggy), and that’s it—bon appetit!

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