I’m so happy when I have the opportunity to support amazing organizations and cook from amazing books at the same time! Today I bring you Cuisine del Sol, a cookbook celebrating 20 years of Pier del Sol, the largest fundraising event benefiting Special Olympics in Southern California. The Special Olympics Southern California team presented this delicious collection of recipes at a recent media luncheon at Melissa’s Produce, and I know you’re going to love the recipe for Fall Harvest Salad with Sparkling Cider Vinaigrette!
Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the Special Olympics in 1968, and Special Olympics Southern California – founded with 3 athletes in 1969 – now serves 30,700 athletes who train and compete in a dozen year-round sports. Every Special Olympics event demonstrates what Eunice wanted to show: that athletes with intellectual disabilities succeed when they are treated with dignity and respect.
Pier del Sol is a culinary extravaganza held at the historic Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park. Combining great food and amusement park fun for the family, the highlight of the day is a VIP brunch featuring tastings from more than 35 of Los Angeles’ top chefs from the area’s premiere restaurants.
Cuisine del Sol, Celebrating 20 Years of Food, Fun, and Sun, is a tribute to both the Special Olympics athletes who inspire everyone to be their best and the chefs who have participated in the event. Melissa’s Produce’s own Chef Tom Fraker, is one of those generous chefs and two of his recipes are featured in the book. Chef Tom and his team always make sure we enjoy the most delicious dishes at Melissa’s Produce events; at this luncheon recipes served from Cuisine del Sol included his Fall Harvest Salad with Sparkling Cider Vinaigrette; Gazpacho Soup from Philip Kastel of The Daily Grill; Organic Kale and Quinoa Salad from Peter Garland of Porta Via; and Truffle Honey Laced Fried Chicken from David Le Fevre of MB Post and Fishing with Dynamite. (I’m definitely going to be making Chef Kastel’s Aunt Ronda’s Monkey Bread – after all, one cannot live on salad alone!)
Chef Tom’s Watermelon Radish Tacos were also on the menu; as you can imagine, both of his recipes are filled with fresh and healthy produce, and easily accommodate different or additional ingredients to suit your tastes.
Fall Harvest Salad is straightforward, quick and easy to put together. It’s just a bit of prep and then a toss together before serving. You can mix the dressing and toast the pepitas in advance to save a little more time too.
Don’t skip the step of toasting the pepitas – it’s fast and easy and adds incredible flavor to the dish. To toast pepitas (or other nuts), place in a pan on the stove over medium-low heat. Stir or toss constantly until the nuts are fragrant and have some golden brown color on them. Don’t walk away from the stove – nuts can go from perfectly toasted to burnt in a second! Pour them into a bowl and allow to cool.
I made a few adjustments based on the produce that was available. Persimmons aren’t in season just yet, so I used thinly sliced apple and some roasted butternut squash (I really wanted that beautiful orange color in the mix, and the squash adds great flavor and texture.) I added microgreens because I love them, and they’re super nutritious! My hubby is not a fan of bleu cheese, so I needed to switch that up; normally I’d use Feta cheese, but because September 1st means fall in my house, I happened to have some Pumpkin Spice Cheddar Cheese in the fridge, which I shaved with a vegetable peeler. (Hold on now, don’t say “yuk!” until you’ve tried it – it’s actually quite flavorful and a perfect complement to the salad ingredients and the vinaigrette!)
Speaking of the vinaigrette, the sparkling cider makes this dressing light and snappy, and give lots of flavor to the salad without being heavy or overbearing. The recipe calls for two cups of rice vinegar, but I used one. It made a big batch with plenty left for future salads.
You can, of course, toss everything together in a big bowl – but if you’re serving this to guests, placing the greens on a large platter and layering the other ingredients on top makes a really pretty presentation!
It’s just as colorful when it’s all tossed together, isn’t it? (You can see the pumpkin spice in the cheese shavings too!) We ate this alongside seared pork chops, and I think it would be a great accompaniment for salmon as well. For a main dish or lunch the next day you can add meat right into the bowl – turkey would be delicious too! Happy fall; enjoy, y’all!
Visit Special Olympics Southern California to find out how to get involved and support these wonderful athletes. For more information on this year’s event, and to purchase tickets, visit Pier del Sol.
Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt. Special Olympics Athlete Oath
- 12 oz. bag Melissa's Produce Spring Mix
- 2 persimmons, diced
- 6 oz. package dried cranberries
- 6 oz. package pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds), toasted
- 1 cup crumbled bleu cheese
- 1 red onion, diced
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 cup sparkling apple cider
- ½ tsp. Kosher salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- ½ tsp. granulated sugar
- In a bowl, whisk olive oil, rice vinegar, apple cider, salt, pepper and sugar until well combined. Test for seasoning and sweetness.
- In another bowl, toss spring mix, persimmons, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, bleu cheese and onion until well combined.
- Just before serving, add ½ cup vinaigrette to coat the salad.
- Refrigerate extra vinaigrette.
Disclaimer: Melissa’s Produce provided me with a copy of Cuisine del Sol and the featured products to review and cook with. I was not compensated in any other way, and all the opinions are my own.