For lovers around the world, Valentine’s Day is a giddy time to celebrate shared love with hearts and flowers, candy and candle-lit dinners. But what about those of us who are love-less? The ones who lost love, were betrayed in love, or for whom love never even bothered to show up. You know, the kind of love stories that leave a bitter taste in your mouth. What do we celebrate when everyone wears their hearts on their sleeves this Valentine’s Day? We celebrate bittersweet love. That once-possessed, been-there-done-that love story that is no longer and it’s alright. We may be in between lovers or just ok with being happily single, because we can turn lost love’s bittersweet taste into delicious satisfaction. For that reason I created my Bittersweet Love Salad.
They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. True, though it can be hard to believe when you are in the throes of a breakup, estrangement, or divorce. That’s exactly what happened to me a decade ago. I was fresh out of a marriage-gone-wrong and not feeling very excited about the looming V-Day. But, I was designing a menu and recipes for my Valentine’s cooking class and needed inspiration. After overdosing on all the sticky romantic sweetness of classic dishes, I was about to give up. My heart just wasn’t in it—my heart was broken. I was feeling angry and reluctant to celebrate love—bitter and mad at stupid-cupid for getting me into this mess. Then it hit me—I could create a dish that honored the downside of love. The edgy, other-side-of-amore with lots of flavor and emotion. This could be fun! I set out to choose my ingredients with care—and a pinch of revenge, a dash of malice—but all in the name of good fun and good food.
The first thing I chose were some bitter lettuces to pair with sweeter flavors. My first choice was arugula, the beloved spicy green that’s delicate but also asserts its personality in any situation. While thought of as a leafy green, arugula is actually from the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) and helps detoxify the body. Its peppery flavor has a natural cooling effect that will work to cool off my temper, I thought. I mixed the arugula with some milder speckled and red leaf lettuces and a little frisée—a curly member of the chicory family with a delicious bitter edge. Bitterness can actually be good medicine since studies have shown that bitter-is-better for health and wellbeing. I also added some lovely spears of red endive for more color and bitter sweetness.
I was seeing red, so it was only natural that I added Blood Oranges to the salad as a no-brainer during February citrus season—and since their vibrant crimson, almost blood-red flesh draws red juice when cut. These juices were running deep—and right into the salad dressing to turn it a beautiful ruby hue. Blood oranges hail from Sicily and are prized citrus fruit with a red-blushed rind and tart sweetness unlike any other fruit. They have an intense aroma and tangy dolcezza with hints of raspberry, which I happily enhanced with raspberry balsamic vinegar in the dressing. The abundant vitamins and minerals in blood oranges may not heal a broken heart, but they will keep it beating and healthy for the next love story! I also gleefully added thin slices of red onion to the salad for an appropriate amount of vengeful bite, and shaved radishes for a riotous, kick-in-the-pants punch that I wish I’d given my ex. All in all, it’s not only a bright, colorful salad perfect for Valentine’s Day, but a flavor-forward, match-made-in-heaven mix of bitter, sweet, and spicy ingredients for an uplifting dish all winter long.
Now, instead of eating your heart out, you can eat my beautiful Bittersweet Love Salad. I guarantee that the lingering taste of love in your mouth will not be bitter. It will be a delicious, bittersweet flavor to savor loves past and loves future—or maybe just the love of bitter greens and fruit ; ) Love yourself today and Happy Valentine’s Day to all!