Last week, I wrote about winter salads for the Jerusalem Post and today, I want to share this how-to guide with you. What are your favorite ways to prepare hardy greens and root vegetables?
As February rolls around and Punxsutawney Phil predicts mild months ahead, cravings for spring and summer produce sneak up on us. But before jumping into warm weather salads - a celebration of a ripe vegetable or two and a few delicate greens adorned with just a splash of olive oil and lemon juice – savor the lingering vestiges of winter. Though winter salads take a little extra planning and some imagination to coax out the flavors of hardier greens and root vegetables, their complexity might leave you longing for them as the first few buds push their way through the melting snow and the farmers markets reopen.
While there’s no rule that salad must contain greens, most do. Case in point, Shakespeare’s Cleopatra inextricably linked salads with the color green, reflecting on her youthful “… salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…” Winter leaves tend to be more bitter and thicker than their summer counterparts. On first blush, this probably doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement. But winter salads were made for dressing, which, etymologically speaking, may indicate that they are closer to the origins of salad than their summer brethren: the word salad is derived from the Latin sal (salt) and refers to the salty pickling brine that dressed Roman greens. Peppery arugula, radicchio (purple, but still in the greens category) and mustard greens can stand up to a more assertive dressing with extra acid, and a little sugar can tame the piquant spice. Give anything that you’re used to seeing cooked – kale, collards, cabbage – a little extra time to soak up the dressing in order to soften and wilt the greens. If you want to keep things basic, squeeze a lemon over the greens, and then let a fried egg do the work, its creamy yolk coating the leaves.
Winter vegetables are transformed by roasting which brings out their natural sweetness. Crank the oven above 400°F and throw in your vegetables, doused in the holy roasting trinity of olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread out on foil-covered cookie sheets. The trees – stalks of broccoli and cauliflower – take fifteen to twenty minutes. Most roots – chopped carrots, parsnips, squash, and potatoes – should roast for thirty to forty-five minutes. And tightly-wrapped parcels of beets need up to ninety minutes, depending on their size, until a sharp knife or toothpick can pierce the flesh easily. Don’t be daunted by the extra preparation time; instead, uncork some wine and pop in a movie while you roast up loads of vegetables. Then keep them in the refrigerator for three to four days, grabbing one or two for salad or to mix with pasta or to serve just as they are alongside a steak.
Cold weather salads benefit from contrast. Bright colors excite the eye and prepare the palate: think fuchsia beets and golden squash atop dark green leaves. Add unexpected texture from beans, lentils, or chewy grains such as wild rice, farro, or barley. (Check out Cook’s Illustrated‘s recently published “beyond rice” guide for helpful hints on preparing grains that you may be less familiar with.) For a burst of juice, top with pieces of apple or pear, sections of grapefruit, or pomegranate seeds. Shave or crumble come cheese, such as parmesan or feta, for added richness. And then, what truly elevates any salad is something crunchy. Toast some nuts or seeds in the oven (a toaster oven works great here too) or in a pan. And that stale bread? Chop it into cubes or grind it into coarse crumbs, season, and brown in the oven.
Before you know it, you’ll be greeted by those first fiddleheads ferns and morels and white asparagus and artichokes. But for the next few weeks, follow this basic formula for winter salads and don’t let the best of the season pass you by.
Here are a few more of my favorite winter salads:
Arugula salad with pear, goat cheese, pomegranate, and candied walnuts
Kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata
Kale salad with barley and beets
Kale salad with ricotta salata, walnuts, and bread crumbs
Salad with beets and ruby red grapefruit
Bitter greens with pink grapefruit and sumac
This salad is adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe published earlier this year in the Guardian. You’ll probably have leftover dressing that you can store in the refrigerator.
- 1/3 stale baguette or 3 slices of stale bread
- 5 T olive oil, divided
- 1 T sumac, divided
- ¾ C grapefruit juice (I used juice from a carton)
- 2 T sugar
- 1 t harissa
- 1 lemon for 2 T juice
- 3 pink or red grapefruits
- 1 shallot
- 4 large handfuls of bitter greens (here I used a mix of tender mizuna and arugula; kale, endive, radicchio would also work well)
Toast. Cut the stale bread into bite-sized cubes (approximately 1 cup). Toss with 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of sumac, and a pinch of salt and grind of pepper to taste. Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast in a 300°F oven until golden, about 10 minutes.
Simmer. Mix the grapefruit juice, sugar, and harissa in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens and you have about 4 tablespoons-worth of juice left – this could take up to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool down, then whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, remaining 2 teaspoons of sumac and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Dip a leaf into the dressing and adjust the seasoning.
Peel. Peel the grapefruits and separate each segment like you would with an orange. Separate the flesh from the membranes and break into a few pieces.
Cut. Slice the shallot into very thin rounds. Roughly chop the greens into bite-sized pieces
Assemble. In a large bowl, mix the grapefruit segments, shallot, and greens. Pour over ¼ cup of dressing and toss gently. Add more dressing to taste. Sprinkle with croutons and serve right before serving.