Who can go past the goodness of caramelised onions in this Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad? This hearty salad recipe is so easy to make, perfect for mid-week dinners or weekend lunches.
Why Are Cooked Onions Sweet?
Everyone knows that when you cook onions, regardless of the method, they become sweet.
I have often had this conversation with my daughter about the first person who discovered the onion. He/she would have bitten straight into it and no doubt spat it straight back out! And to make matters worse, they would have started crying without understanding why. Haha!
And then some genius, be it by sheer luck, accident or experiment, thought to cook the onions and lo’ and behold! What have we here? How could this vegetable go from nasty to divine?
So of course, my daughter wanted to know why that was. How a vegetable that would make Mummy cry be so good.
Onions contain a sulphur-based defence system. This defence system is activated when the onion is cut and it releases a compound called propanethial-s-oxide into the air. Sulfuric acid is formed, causing irritation to the eyes and tears to shed. It is the same acid which gives onions their pungent smell.
So why do they become so sweet when we cook them? Onions contain sugar and when you apply heat to it, the sugar is released. The naturally occurring sugar gets caramelised and the sweet flavour is magnified by the loss of water. It would be safe to assume that the cooking process also removes or at least diminishes the sulphur.
Isn’t this all just so fascinating?
Why Are Pine Nuts So Expensive?
I constantly complain to Phen about the costs of pine nuts. I’m always whinging and whining about how expensive they are but they taste so darn good that I find them irresistible. She’s so over me grumbling about it so I decided to find out why it costs so much.
Pine nuts are actually the seeds of pine cones, which comes from pine trees. To grow pine nuts commercially, a plantation of pine trees requires a lot of land and it can take several years for the trees to bear cones. On top of that, it can take another 3 years for it to reach maturity.
The harvesting process is highly labour intensive. The pine cones have to be dried for an average of 20 days so that they will open and the seeds may be extracted by hand. The seeds then need to be hulled. Each pine cone will yield about 50g of pine nuts.
Hmmmm….. kinda feel bad for complaining so much now!
Different Types of Spinach
It is incredible how many different types of spinach there are. I’ve seen articles citing about 25 varieties but I just want to quickly highlight 3 of the main types of spinach.
- Savoy Spinach – this is the spinach we use a lot of which has thick and crinkled leaves. This spinach is hard to clean as the soil and dirt tends to stick to them as they have a low growth habit.
- Semi-Savoy Spinach – Their leaves are less crinkled and therefore easier to clean. You’d find this variety more for home growers.
- Smooth Leafed Spinach – This is the spinach with smooth, flat leaves and it is this variety we’re using in this sweet potato recipe.
Here are some other salad recipes we have with spinach: Gluten Free Pasta Salad with Tarragon Mustard Chicken and Yellow Nectarine Salad with Grilled Halloumi.
Why I Love Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad
Funny how we associate different foods with people. Sweet potato reminds me of my mother. She absolutely loves it and her favourite way to eat it is to simply steam it. And whilst it’s piping hot, she’d peel off the skin and dig into the golden flesh.
I was introduced to sweet potato fries only when I moved to Australia and I remember thinking that was the best thing since sliced bread! I mean, how yum is it? It doesn’t even need anything added to it to make those glorious sweet potato slices. As a small homage to the sweet potato fries, I created this salad recipe.
How to Make Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad
How to Prepare the Salad
When selecting a sweet potato, try and find one that is as straight as possible. This will make it much easier to cut them into strips without having to navigate odd shapes.
Peel the sweet potato and cut it in half. Stand the sweet potato on the flat base and slice about 0.5cm to 1cm thick. Then cut them into strips to resemble sweet potato fries.
Remove the skin off the red onion. Cut the onion in half from tip to root and then into wedges. You want to make sure the root is still in tact so that the wedges don’t fall apart when roasting.
Coat both the sweet potato slices and red onion wedges with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Place on a sheet pan and roast in the oven at 220°C or 430°F for 20 minutes. At the halfway mark, remove and turn vegetables over for even roasting.
Toast half pine nuts on a fry pan until golden brown.
How to Prepare Honey Dijon Dressing
In a small jar or small mixing bowl, add olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard and horseradish cream.
Mix until well combined.
How to Assemble the Salad
On a flat serving platter, place the baby spinach leaves onto one side of the platter. Add half the toasted pine nuts and drizzle half the dressing mixture.
Place the roasted sweet potato in a heap on top of spinach.
On the other side of the platter, smear the goat’s cheese. Then place the roasted onion wedges on the top.
Drizzle the rest of the dressing and sprinkle the rest of the pine nuts on the salad. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
We hope you’ll enjoy this sweet potato and spinach salad with all its natural sweetness and creaminess. It’s quite a hearty salad, great for the cooler days or if you’re looking for a meal on its own!
More Gluten Free Recipes:
- Keto Brussels Sprouts Salad with Shaved Parmesan
- Balsamic Roasted Figs and Halloumi Salad
- Cantonese Roast Duck Salad with Radicchio
- Artichoke and Potato Salad with Creme Fraiche
- Egg Salad with Dill and Rocket
Easy Salad Dressing Recipes:
Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad
Click on the toggle below for conversion to US Cooking Units.
- When selecting the sweet potato, get the straightest one possible. Peel the sweet potato. Cut it in half. Then stand it on the flat end and cut the sweet potato into slices and then into long strips, like you would fries.
- Remove the skin off the red onion. Cut the onion in half from tip to root and then into wedges.
- Using a basting brush, coat both the sweet potato slices and red onion wedges with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Place on a sheet pan and roast in the oven at 220°C or 430°F for 20 minutes. At the halfway mark, remove and turn vegetables over for even roasting.
- Toast pine nuts on a fry pan until golden brown.
- In a small jar or small mixing bowl, add olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard and horseradish cream.
- Mix until well combined.
- On a flat serving platter, place the baby spinach leaves onto one side of the platter. Add half the toasted pine nuts and drizzle half the dressing mixture.
- Place the roasted sweet potato in a heap on top of spinach.
- On the other side of the platter, smear the goat’s cheese. Then place the roasted onion wedges on the top.
- Drizzle the rest of the dressing and sprinkle the rest of the pine nuts on the salad.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately.
- You can use any sweet potato and onion variety for this recipe.
- If pine nuts are too expensive, you can replace it with peanuts or cashews.
- For a vegan friendly version, use dairy free goat’s cheese and replace the honey with palm sugar or maple syrup.