There’s a place in my neck of the woods where you can dine on the rocks. Literally. I’ve got a picture below to prove it. But, you won’t be roughing it. Nope. Just look at this fancy salad with fennel, watermelon bits, candied pecans and feta you can enjoy while you are watching dolphin, sea birds and boats go by.
This is my version of the house salad served at River Rocks here on the Space Coast of Florida. Tender butter lettuce is topped with shaved fennel, candied pecans, finely diced watermelon and crumbled feta cheese. An orange honey mustard vinaigrette is drizzled over the top.
Now, that’s what I call a fancy salad with a unique combination of flavors that I would never have thought up all on my own. Thank you, River Rocks!
If you look closely, you can see that there is a very long bar running along the rocks where you can look out over the water and enjoy this fancy salad and lots of other tasty entrees, such as Caribbean Shrimp and Alligator Black Bean Chili. There’s more seating inside and then there is the elegant dining room…but, that’s a whole another post.
Fancy Salad Step-by-Step
To candy the pecans, add butter and brown sugar to a pan. Melt and stir the mixture over medium heat. Stir in the pecans and coat them with the sugar mixture. Remove pecans to wax paper and allow them to cool and set while preparing the rest of the salad ingredients. Note that the River Rocks version uses pecan pralines, which is too much work for this mom! I think I saved a few calories too with this splurge-worthy addition.
I could probably do an entire post on fennel. I haven’t worked with this vegetable very much…like never…except for the dried spice. But, I enjoyed the licorice flavor in the salad.
It’s not hard to work with. But, instead of loading in 3 or 4 more pictures, check out this video on working with fennel by Dr. Derek Alessi and Chef Binks. There’s also a recipe for using the remaining fennel. Bonus: fennel is a healthy addition to the salad according to Dr. Alessi.
My cliff notes:
- Cut off the green fronds. You will be using only the white bulb.
- Cut the bulb in half and cut out the hard middle part.
- Use a mandoline or knife to shave the bulb in very thin pieces, the thinner the better!
Another surprising ingredient in this recipe is diced watermelon. Genius. I love watermelon and it adds a pretty pink color and sweet flavor which nicely offsets the other fancy salad ingredients. Did I mention the feta?
The orange honey mustard vinaigrette offers another level of flavor to the salad. I don’t have River Rocks’ secret salad dressing recipe, but I found this one at Whole Foods and it is tasty. It’s a combination of Dijon mustard, honey, canola oil, orange juice and white wine vinegar. You can add some diced onion too.
This fancy salad goes well with most entrees. After all, it is a “house salad.” It’s just not an ordinary one!
This is a view of the Indian River Lagoon. If you get the chance to dine at River Rocks, make sure you take some time enjoy the scenery from the dock and snap a few pictures.
- 6-8 cups salad greens (I used butter lettuce)
- ½ cup pecans
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar, packed
- One fourth of a fennel bulb, green fronds and hard middle core removed
- ⅛ of seedless watermelon
- ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
- ⅓ cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 3 Tablespoons orange juice
- 2 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
- Melt and combine butter and brown sugar in a pan over medium high heat.
- Add pecans and stir to coat with sugar mixture.
- Remove pecans to wax paper and allow to set while preparing the rest of the salad.
- Use mandoline or knife to shave fennel into very thin slices.
- Cut watermelon into thin slices and finely dice. Blot with paper towel, if necessary to absorb excess juice.
- Layer salad greens, fennel, watermelon, feta cheese and pecans in a large bowl.
- Gently toss.
- Serve with Orange Honey Mustard Vinaigrette.
- Add all of the ingredients to a jar or bowl and stir vigorously to combine.