Spinach Salad with Blood Oranges, Strawberries, and Pepitos

Spring has been exceptionally slow in coming this year. The daylight has increased, but the temperatures have still been colder than normal, and there's still snow cover in a lot of areas... Frustrating to say the least, especially for a new mother ready to show her baby the wonders of nature! At least the local spinach is here, though! This is grown in hoop-houses by my friends at Westridge Organic Produce, and wow is it good! So flavorful and alive - it makes you realize just how un-fresh many of our "fresh" vegetables are all winter.

There was an Easter potluck planned at my Aunt's house last Sunday, so I decided to counteract some of the candy, cupcakes, and other sweets with a springtime spinach salad.

Yes, I know that strawberry season is a long way off. The California season is starting up, but these beauts are from farther parts than that even: Mexico. I have nothing against Mexican produce, organic strawberries go so very well with spinach, and these are really nice right now, so I went for it. Really, a lot of the Mexican produce production happens almost as near to us as California, so why discriminate? 

Pepitos, also known by their more boring name: pumpkin seeds. I was debating putting bacon in this salad. I didn't, but I compromised by toasting these in the bacon grease left in the pan from our Easter breakfast bacon. Delish. I'll have to remember that trick next Halloween! I bought these raw and unsalted and added salt to the pan as they were toasting. Thanks to my friend Max for the pumpkin seed idea - they worked out great!

The last ingredient was a bunch of these beautiful blood oranges. The longer I've known blood oranges, the more I've grown to love them. These are not anything like the safe, sweet, predictable navels. Blood oranges have a burst of tart, fresh, flavor that can knock your socks off - not to mention the beauty of their amazing color. I just love them. They are past peak season now, but as one of the late maturing citrus fruits, they still belong in my spring salad.

The finished product. I dressed it with a simple balsamic (olive oil, blood orange juice, balsamic vinegar, basil, black pepper, and salt). Yum. 

Here's a simple recipe. No quantities - in this kind of salad, everything should be to taste.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Juice of a few Blood Oranges
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Dried Basil (or fresh is you have it!)
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Combine everything in a jar with a tight lid. Shake well just before using.

Raw Pumpkin Seeds
Bacon Grease from a Pastured Hog (or Olive Oil or any other oil you like)
Fresh Organic Baby Spinach
Organic Blood Oranges, segmented and cut into 1" pieces plus one orange cut into slices for garnish
Organic Strawberries, cut into quarters or 1/8ths plus a few cut into halves for garnish
Blood Orange Balsamic Dressing 

Toast the pumpkin seeds in a skillet over medium heat with the bacon grease or oil. Stir often, until the seeds are nicely browned. Add salt to taste. Wait until just before serving and then mix everything together. Toss well, then garnish the top with slices of blood orange and strawberry halves.

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