Guys, I’m ready for spring. Ready for a new season and new life. I always love to observe how what we crave to eat changes with the weather and the seasons. Right now I’m craving fresh, green, vibrant things.
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If you live in Nashville or are ever visiting Nashville, my personal recommendation is for the Richland Park Farmers Market. It’s still within Nashville proper (as opposed to somewhere like the Franklin Farmers Market, which is lovely but a good drive outside the city), and always has a good variety of produce and artisanal items like honey, bread, farm fresh meats, etc.
The Nashville Farmers Market is great if you want eat a meal (their food court is pretty great) or take the opportunity to walk around downtown or Germantown. But for a local, Richland Park Farmers Market is the one I drive across town for.
So last weekend, even though it was still too cold to really feel like shopping for spring vegetables, I trucked to the farmers market and bought beautiful salad mixes, microgreens, baby fennel, sweet honey, etc. and was determined to make a spring salad.
For me a good salad always has to have some sort of cheese in it (you already know about my salad + burrata obsession), but for this spring salad I wanted something with a little more punch to hold up to all the herbs and flavorful greens I was using. So I settled on goat cheese.
And of all the cheeses, I think tangy and creamy goat cheese has to be the spring-iest. So it seemed a natural choice.
But this salad doesn’t have just any old goat cheese – nope, I’ve been really into making crispy fried goat cheese lately. And when I bought the honey from the market, I knew crispy goat cheese coated in honey was going to be the star of my spring salad.
Making Crispy Goat Cheese
I’ve tried to make crispy goat cheese a two ways: crispy fried goat cheese, and crispy baked goat cheese. One of these methods is easier (hint: it’s the baked one) and one of these methods makes for crispier, more golden little goat cheese balls (hint: it’s the fried one).
Either way, the cripsy goat cheese starts the same way. The key to the crisp is in panko breadcrumbs, but it’s important to season the breadcrumbs before you coat the cheese in it. For this spring salad, since I wanted something with oomph, I opted for kosher salt, a little bit of sugar, and a good bit of red pepper flakes for some spice.
You prepare the goat cheese in the same way you prepare most fried things – first you dip the cheese in an egg wash, then you coat with the seasoned breadcrumbs. Goat cheese stands up to the heat of the oven or the fryer quite well, but letting them chill in the refrigerator before cooking ensures they’ll stay set.
Oh, and did I mention the best part about these spicy goat cheese balls? They’re coated in honey when they’re still piping hot. Just think about creamy goat cheese that’s a little spicy and a lot crunchy mixed with the sweet honey – I can tell you it’s near perfection.
Elements of a spring salad
When I think of spring produce, I think of really tender young vegetables, fresh herbs, and the beginning of good fruit. So this spring salad has elements of all of those.
I used salad greens from the markets – some romaine for crunch, and some darker, leafier greens for color. Then I added microgreens to the salad as well – a mix of radish microgreens (a little spicy) and sunflower microgreens (a little savory). They give the salad extra flavor without adding anything but greens!
I also added fresh herbs to the spring salad – fennel fronds, parsley, and arugula flowers to be exact. But that just happened to be what my farmers market had on hand. I recommend going to your own market and eyeing whatever they have that looks good.
Finally, I added fruit. In this case, early season blueberries which are still just a little too tart. They paired wonderfully with the goat cheese and honey.
Spring Salad Dressing
No special salad is complete without homemade dressing. I honestly never buy dressing from the store anymore. Once you see how easy it is to mix oil with something acidic to make a dressing, you won’t go back to grocery store salad dressing either.
This dressing uses honey and balsamic vinegar to create something that’s a little tart and a little sweet. Perfect with the crisp lettuce and flavorful herbs.
Putting it all together
The lettuce, microgreens, and herbs can all be cut, washed, spun added to a bowl while the goat cheese chills in the refrigerator. Then, while the goat cheese bakes you can make your dressing. If frying the goat cheese, you’ll want to make the dressing ahead since the frying requires much more hands on attention.
Toss the salad with the dressing along with fresh blueberries and crunchy marcona almonds (another favorite salad ingredient). Then, when the goat cheese comes out of the oven (or fryer) coat with the honey and serve while the crispy goat cheese is still warm.
I guarantee, even if it’s still cold where you live, this salad will make you think of spring.
Spring Salad with Crispy Goat Cheese and Honey
For the Crispy Goat Cheese
- 1 10.5 oz log goat cheese
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp honey
For the Honey Balsamic Dressing
- 1 ½ tbsp honey
- 1 ½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
For the Spring Salad:
- 6-8 cups leaf lettuce torn
- 2 cups microgreens
- ⅓ cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp chopped fennel fronds
- 1 ½ cups blueberries
- ⅓ cup marcona almonds
To make the crispy goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 450. Cut the log of goat cheese in half lengthwise, then make 4 slices through the halves to come up with 20 about equal sized goat cheese pieces. Roll each piece into a small ball
Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and mix the panko bread crumbs with the sugar, salt, and red pepper flakes in a separate bowl.
Dip one of the goat cheese balls into the egg mixture then coat with the breadcrumbs. Add to a clean plate and repeat with the remaining goat cheese balls.
Let the goat cheese balls chill in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes, longer if desired. Grease a baking sheet and add the goat cheese balls to the baking sheet. Spray with olive oil so that the panko breadcrumbs become golden.
Bake the goat cheese at 450 on the middle rakc for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown (be careful, they will become more done on the bottom first).
Remove from the oven and place in one layer on a plate. Drizzle with the honey and try not to eat them all immediately.
To make the honey balsamic dressing
Whisk together honey and balsamic vinegar in small mixing bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking vigorously to emulsify.
Add salt and pepper and taste. Add more honey or salt/pepper as needed.
To make the spring salad
Combine leaf lettuce, microgreeens, fennel bulb, parsley, and fennel fronds in a large bowl. Add the blueberries and marcona almonds.
Toss everything with the dressing to coat evenly
Allow each person to serve their own bowl of salad and add the crispy honey goat cheese to their liking.
Serve with extra marcona almonds or blueberries if anyone desires them. Add bread and you have an easy weeknight meal!
Frying the goat cheese makes for a crispier end result but requires much more hands on attention. To do this, heat 1 cup of vegetable oil in a medium dutch oven. Add the goat cheese balls and fry until golden brown, being careful not to puncture them when removing them from the oil. Place onto a paper down to blot then transfer to a plate and drizzle with the oil.