Creating this Poached Pear Salad with Fresh Spinach is a lesson in elegant food creation. Sure you can throw together a boring old salad, but what about this recipe, that stars beautiful poached pears? Add this to the fresh spinach, goat cheese, caramelized walnuts, maple dressing and it is beauty personified.
While this is certainly not the easiest salad recipe to make, it one that is worth all the effort. Poaching the pears is not a difficult process, but it does take time. If you have never tried this before, let me assure you, it is not as hard as you might think. I will walk you through it and have you pear-poaching pro in no time.
The salad will require 3 main steps for preparation- making the poached pears, candied walnuts, and assembling the salad with the dressing.
If you are a fan of salads, like I am, what about this copycat quinoa salad? Or a simple shrimp cucumber salad? If you are looking for something light and with ancient grains, try this ancient grain salad recipe.
- Pears- I am using Bartlett pears, but will add other recommendations below if you want to mix it up. You will want pears that are just on the cusp of being soft, but not there yet. At this point they will have their natural sweetness, but are still firm.
- Sugar- Using a simple syrup is the easiest way to make poached pears.
- Spices- I used whole cinnamon, cloves and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
- Fresh spinach- Be sure the spinach is firm and a beautiful green color.
- Goat cheese- I love the fresh, unripe goat cheese, Chevre for this salad.
- Walnuts- You can use pieces, but I prefer the halves, then chopping them up after the are caramelized.
- Brown sugar- for the walnuts.
- Egg white- also for the walnuts
- Vanilla- used for the pears and walnuts.
- Pure maple syrup- This is used for the maple dressing, make sure it is pure maple syrup.
- Olive oil- also for dressing.
- Apple cider vinegar
- Dijon mustard- as an emulsifier in the dressing.
- Minced garlic
- Salt and pepper- to taste in the dressing.
OPTIONAL: If you have been following me for any amount of time, you know I love adding whole grains to all my foods. If you are interested in adding some to this salad, how about trying cooked oat groats, barley, or even einkorn. All have a milder flavor that will add texture, but not compete with the other flavors in the salad.
How to poach pears
Let's start with the pears. Again, while these are not hard to do, they are a little time-consuming.
Step one: bring your poaching liquid to a boil. This is the sugar, water and spices. Heat it on high heat until it boils, then reduce the heat to low simmer.
Step two: While the liquid is heating, peel and half the pears. You can also scoop out the seeds. I chose to leave mine in just because I love the way the halves look.
Step three: Gently place the pears into the liquid. They will need to stay submerged, so cut a circle of parchment to cover them with. I will show what this looks like below. To cut the circle, fold a square of parchment into a rectangle, as shown. Measure this from the middle of the pan, no need to be exact. Round the outside with scissors. Also, but a hole in the middle for venting.
Step 4: Cook the pears. You may need to push them down a little to ensure they stay underwater or are covered. Let the pears simmer until they are just BARELY tender. They should not be mushy.
Step 5: Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and allow them to cool at room temperature before adding them to the salad.
How to make caramelized walnuts
Mix together the walnuts, egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Be sure they are well blended and the walnuts are coated well.
Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven, let them cool and rough chop for the salad.
Assembling the poached pear salad
Now it is time to put it all together. Fill the plate with your fresh spinach. Add the poached pear to the salad, sprinkle with the candied walnuts, and chunks of goat cheese.
Mix together the maple dressing and drizzle it over the top. This salad is best served immediately as the spinach will wilt if you make it too far in advance. So, dress it and serve it!
Tips and tricks
- Everything in this salad can be made ahead of time. If you are working on scheduling for a dinner, poach the pears, candy the walnuts, and make the dressing ahead of time. When it is time to serve, simply assemble the salad.
- For added heartiness to this salad, add in a few tablespoons of your cooked grains to each serving. You could use barley, oat groats, quinoa, or farro.
- If you want added depth of flavor to the poached pears, you can add in 1 cup of liquor to the liquid. Red wine, amaretto, brandy, bourbon, rum, etc.
- Allow the pears to cool completely before adding the salad, otherwise they will wilt the spinach.
- Walnuts will also need to be cooled, they can be cooled in the fridge if you prefer. The refrigerator is quick way to cool them down.
- The walnuts can be left whole or chopped as I did.
What type of pears are good for poaching?
- Bosc Pears: Known for their firm texture and sweet, spiced flavor, Bosc pears hold up well during poaching.
- Anjou Pears: With a juicy and sweet taste, Anjou pears are a great option for poaching, maintaining their shape nicely.
- Concorde Pears: A hybrid between Conference and Comice pears, Concorde pears offer a firm texture suitable for poaching.
- Comice Pears: While softer, Comice pears are very juicy and flavorful. Gentle poaching can help maintain their shape.
- Bartlett Pears: Bartlett pears can also be used for poaching. They are juicy and sweet.
Salad dressing recipes
Poached Pear Salad With Fresh Spinach
- 2 pears
- 1 quart water
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 whole cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 egg white
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper adjust as needed
- 6 cups fresh spinach
- 4-6 ounces goat cheese or more if you want
- Bring the water, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and set it to simmer.
- While the liquid is heating, peel the pears and cut them in half.
- Gently add the to the water and cover with the parchment circle. Let this cook, pressing them down occasionally until the pears are tender.
- With a slotted spoon remove them from the liquid and let them cool.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl until the walnuts are covered and well blended.
- Pour onto the pan and spread into a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove and cool.
- Chop into large pieces or leave it whole.
Assembling the salad
- Place 1 ½ cups spinach on each serving plate. Top each pile of spinach with a poached pear. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts and goat cheese.
- Mix the dressing and drizzle it over each salad. Serve immediately.