Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Winter Salads

When I haven't been mixing Oscar Cocktails lately, I've been making warm wintery things like Smoky Bacon Mac & Cheese, Black Bean Soup and rich desserts like Tres Leches Cake. Time to lighten up!

Although when you think of winter vegetables, a lot of roasting comes to mind, there are plenty of fresh options from which to create salads. Yes, summer is the time of year when we have the greatest variety of produce available, but there are enough cold-season options (plus imports) to create many wonderful combinations.

A few things I like for winter salads:
  • Greens: Hardy greens like kale or mustard are in season in winter, and things like spinach and different lettuces are always available. 
  • Roasted vegetables: I know I said part of the point of this is to get away from roasted vegetables, but Brussels sprouts are easy to roast and taste great in salads, they are also good raw. Roasted cubed butternut squash is also good in salads.
  • Raw winter vegetables: Root vegetables thinly sliced like radishes are great in winter salads, as are fennel and celery in thin slices.
  • Seasonal fruit: Citrus fruits grown in warmer climates come into season in winter, so take advantage of their better flavor (and lower cost). Grapefruit, oranges and pomelos are wonderful peeled and cut up in salads. Also plentiful during winter: avocados.
  • Cheese: Non-produce ingredients like cheese work great in winter salads. I like to cube or crumble cheeses like sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, goat cheese and blue cheese.
  • Nuts and seeds: Pecans, walnuts, sliced almonds and pipettes are some my favorite. Toast first in a pan over low heat to bring out their flavor.
  • Dried fruit: Dried cranberries, cherries and raisins are all welcome additions for a little sweetness.
What I don't recommend:

  • Tomatoes. What you can find at the grocery store in the winter is bland and mealy. When you cut a tomato open and it's mostly white on the inside instead dog vibrant red, it's a sign that it's not very good.
  • Croutons. While I recommend adding a few non-produce items like nuts and cheeses, also adding bread can feel like overkill. Plus if you're going for something light, croutons are an easy way to make a salad feel too substantial.

The recipes that follow are three ideas based on these principles. These are just salads I've tossed together with what I have on hand and a couple carefully selected ingredients. For Salad #1, for example, I had planned to make it with dried cranberries, but found I had dried cherries in the pantry, so I used those instead. Feel free to treat these recipes as spring-boards for your own creations. These recipes are scaled for two dinner-size portions.

Winter Salad #1: Kale, Brussels Sprout and Chicken Salad with Dried Cherries (pictured above)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 lb. boneless-skinless chicken breast cutlets (may also use turkey)
2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 cups kale leaves, stems removed and discarded, leaves cut into small pieces
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, halved and roasted (see note)
1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup pecans and walnuts halves, toasted
2 tbsp. dried cherries
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard

1. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken, season with thyme, salt and pepper and sauté until cooked through and lightly browned, about 10 minutes total, flipping halfway through. Set aside to cool then slice into strips.

2. Combine kale, roasted Brussels sprouts, cheese, nuts and cherries in a large bowl. Whisk together apple cider vinegar and mustard seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Add the remaining 2 tbsp. of olive oil and whisk to combine. Pour over salad and toss to combine. Serve on bowls topped with sautéed chicken strips.

Note: To roast Brussels sprouts. Preheat oven to 400 F. Put cut sprouts in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt, then spread on a baking sheet. Flip sprouts over so the cut-side is down. Roast for 35 minutes until golden brown in places. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Winter Salad #2: Apple, Pecan and Blue Cheese Salad
This is a classic winter salad trio: a pungent cheese, paired with a fresh fruit (apples or pears) and nut (pecans are my favorite, walnuts or almonds are good too). Be sure to choose a good blue cheese. I like the cheese from Rogue Creamery.

3 cups green leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
1/3 cup pecan halves, toasted
1 apple (any type you like), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the lettuce, cheese, nuts and apple in a large bowl. Whisk together the vinegar and olive; season with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad and toss to combine.

Winter Salad #3: Fennel, Radish, Orange and Avocado with Goat Cheese
This salad balance the bitterness of radishes and fennel with sweet oranges and honey. It has a range of textures too from the crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds) to the creamy cheese and avocado.

3 cups romaine lettuce leaves, torn into bite-size pieces
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup shaved fennel, plus a few pieces of fennel frond for garnish (tip: shave the fennel bulb with a vegetable peeler or mandoline).
1 orange, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces, visible pith removed
1 avocado, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp. toasted pepitas
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled soft goat cheese

Combine lettuce, radishes, fennel, oranges, avocado and pepitas in a large bowl. Whisk together the vinegar and honey, then whisk in the olive oil. Pour over the salad and toss to coat. Serve in shallow bowls topped with goat cheese crumbles and fennel fronds.

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