As soon as I saw it listed on the menu at the new Minneapolis restaurant Mill Valley Kitchen, I knew the grilled plum salad ($7, pictured below right) had to be mine. I could taste the juicy plums, creamy goat cheese, and toothsome walnuts before the appetizer arrived on the table. Sadly, though, the reality didn’t live up to the dream. The plums had very few grill marks and tasted more sauteed than grilled. The walnuts were served raw, missing out on the oomph that toasting the nuts brings, and the flat spinach added no flavor. Most disappointingly, the raspberry vinaigrette had no seasoning to balance the sweetness of the fruit, and what I thought would be a knock-out was instead almost forgettable — the key word here being almost.
Because rather than dismissing the salad with a sad shake of my head, instead I automatically started making a mental list of the things I would do to improve it. I’m not a trained chef by any means — and would never claim to be — but I’ve played around with enough greens / fruit/ nuts / dressing combinations to figure out which flavors go well together and what tricks home cooks can use to strengthen the impact of each ingredient. So what began as a rough idea turned into a reality in my kitchen last week, and I’m happy to report the result was quite satisfying.
I substituted peppery arugula for the bland spinach, which added a nice contrast to the sweeter notes of the plums (cut in halves rather than slices to maximize juiciness) and red onions. Both the plums and red onions were grilled for several minutes on each side so the surface sugars would caramelize and distinct grill marks would form. I sliced the larger, outside rings of the onion to scatter over the salad and diced the inner rings to add to my vinaigrette, which swapped out the raspberries for orange muscat champagne vinegar. I toasted the walnuts and chopped them finely so roughly the same number of nuts covered more of the salad’s surface area. Finally, I used an herb-studded goat cheese in place of the plain variety used in the Mill Valley Kitchen version, to add another flavor dimension.
The adapted version offers a more tantalizing, vibrant take on the original while sticking to the salad’s core ingredients. Make it once, and you’ll find yourself eating it again and again this summer. I know I will.
Grilled Plum Salad à la Mill Valley Kitchen
4 small plums, halved
4 oz arugula, rinsed and spun dry
1 – ½-in-thick slice of red onion, cut from the center
¼ c walnuts, chopped and toasted
1 oz herb-flavored goat cheese
¼ c muscat orange champagne vinegar (available at Trader Joe’s)
½ c extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
- Lightly coat the surface of a grill pan with olive oil and heat to medium-high. When hot, place the plum halves on the grill and cook for five minutes on each side. Remove the plums and set aside.
- Add the onion slice to the grill and cook for five to seven minutes on each side. Remove and separate the outer 3-4 rings from the interior and cut into strips. Dice the remaining inner rings of the onion and set aside.
- Divide the arugula and red onion strips between two dinner-size plates. Add four plum halves and scatter the walnuts evenly over each plate.
- Portion the goat cheese into bite-size chunks and divide between the two plates.
- In a large glass measuring cup, pour the vinegar and add the diced red onion, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the measuring cup while vigorously whisking the vinaigrette. When emulsified, pour 2-3 tbsp over each salad. (You will have some dressing left over.)