Sweet salad of mine, I’m going to let you shine!

I’ve been day dreaming about a salad like this for several weeks now. Yes, I really do sit and daydream about salad. It all started with a story my mother told me about a salad that was served at a dinner party she attended that contained warm roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips, feta, and she couldn’t remember what else. Then I heard another story from my friend Patrick about making candied pecans. Then just the other day I was drawn to buy French lentils at the Park Slope Food Coop. Then tonight I put it all together and voila, the salad of my dreams! This is a full meal kind of a salad, not a starter. What good luck to have a wide spanning group of separate ingredients come together in one bowl in just the right kind of harmony. Roasted sweet potatoes that melt in the mouth, and roasted earthy-sweet parsnips were piled on a bed fresh dark green baby spinach laced with bright notes of parsley and french lentils. Cold tangy feta balanced sweet and crunchy candied cayenne pecans, while thyme and shallot vinaigrette seeped its way through the whole affair. The pecans can be, and certainly were (good thing I made extra) enjoyed separately, and would make a wonderful finger food for a cocktail party. Hillary, Theo, Joe, and I devoured our salads in next to silent devotion. I hope you can do the same soon too.

Spicy Candied Pecans

4 Tbs. agave nectar
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1 tsp. freshly grated black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne
2 cups raw pecan halves

Preheat oven to 325°F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the agave, sugar, pepper, salt, and cayenne.
Pour in the pecans and mix until well coated.
Spread the pecans out on the prepared baking sheet and bake until pecans are golden brown, about ten minutes. *Save any leftover sauce in the mixing bowl to use in the salad dressing for this salad.
Remove the parchment paper from the baking sheet and lay it out on the countertop so the pecans can cool, using a fork to separate any that are sticking together.

Warm Root Veggie and Spinach Salad with Candied Pecans and Feta
serves four
1 cup Spicy Candied Pecans
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large parsnip, peeled and cubed
5 Tbs. olive oil 
salt and pepper, to taste
6 Tbs. red wine vinegar 

1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
1 small shallot, finely chopped
about 3 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup cooked French lentils, fully cooled
1 1/2 cups cubed feta cheese
Before beginning, prepare the pecans and the French lentils.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Toss the chopped sweet potato and parsnip in 1 Tbs. olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste; spread out on a nonstick baking pan and bake, stirring occasionally, until fork tender with golden brown edges, about 30 minutes.
While the veggies bake, make the salad dressing:
In a small jar, combine the vinegar, 4 Tbs. olive oil, thyme, and shallot.
Add whatever sweet spicy sauce is left in the bottom of the bowl from making the pecans, should be about 1 Tbs.
Shake to combine, then let sit.
Divide the spinach, parsley, and lentils evenly between four bowls and toss to combine.
As soon as the veggies are done roasting, divide them between the four bowls.
Garnish with feta and pecans and drizzle generously with dressing.