Frisee au lardons, a salad of curly chicory topped with chewy bits of bacon and dressed with hot vinaigrette, is a bistro classic in France. Although lacy chicory and escarole (its flatter-leaved cousin) are found in most produce departments around the U.S., these greens have never really caught on with mainstream America's taste. This makeover of the traditional French salad is the perfect introduction to these lesser-known members of the lettuce family.

To help balance the bitter flavor and tough texture of the chicory and escarole, I combine bite-sized pieces of the greens with baby spinach leaves. Many restaurants serve similar versions of this wintry French salad using Savoy, a sturdy dark green spinach, but I prefer the more tender texture of the baby greens.

With new research showing a convincing link between processed meat and colon cancer, I'll skip the bacon as well. While I could substitute with conventional croutons, I have a unique and delicious suggestion inspired by the sliced raw mushrooms that are sometimes added to spinach salads. In place of bread croutons, I make a version from mushrooms.

To create these "croutons," I saute hearty cremini mushrooms in a dry pan. Without additional fat or oil in the pan, the mushrooms slowly release their liquid. As you continue cooking them, they turn into lovely, chewy nuggets. The creminis, which are baby Portobello mushrooms, turn a rich, dark brown. These chewy delights are also a great accompaniment to soup or atop cooked vegetables.

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Mixed Salad with Warm Mushrooms

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups packed baby spinach leaves
  • 3 cups packed chicory or curly escarole in bite-size pieces
  • 1 lb. crimini mushrooms
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, vinegar, salt and black pepper. Whisk in the oil. Set the dressing aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach and chicory or escarole, and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a dry, medium-skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water dances on its surface. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they look moist, about 4 minutes. Mix in the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are chewy but not soft, 1-2 minutes. Mix in the shallots and set the pan aside.
  4. Pour the dressing over the greens and toss to coat them. Divide the greens among 4 salad plates. Spoon one-fourth of the warm mushrooms over each salad. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Info Per Serving:
140 calories
7 g total fat
1 g saturated fat
17 g carbohydrate
5 g protein
4 g dietary fiber
340 mg sodium

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Diabetic Exchanges: 2 Vegetable, 1-1/2 Fat