Love salads as an entree but when the weather turns cold, not so much? That’s my problem. Easy to make, they can be as simple or complex as your mood or time allows, they’re healthy and, if you’re clever, you can get in your days’ worth of greens at one sitting. The problem? Facing a crisp, cold green salad on a cold, wet or snowy day! So, what’s the alternative?
When you add hot, warm or even room temperature ingredients to greens, it completely changes the equation. So, here are some ideas based on what I do for main dish salads.
How to Do It
Use a large soup bowl or a plate as your base. You build the salad in layers with ingredients from each of the segments, ideally using whatever you already have. Have nothing that works? Make a toasted PBJ or Grilled Cheese, eat, then go to the store for tomorrow’s salad ingredients.
I admit I’m very fortunate as I live close to the Salinas Valley our nation’s year-around salad bowl. So, it’s easy for me to say butter lettuce when iceberg is your reality. It’s easier than it used to be, especially if you live in a city where you can usually get greens year ’round. When all else fails, Thinly sliced or torn iceberg and thinly sliced cabbage work as do Russian kale, Romaine lettuce and spinach leaves. Scallions or red onion, sliced or chopped give the greens a slight “bite.” I look for organic cucumbers (one of the “Dirty Dozen” when grown conventionally). Not available? Switch out a stalk of organic sliced celery (another member of the “D.D.”). Sliced radishes add spiciness. Build your salads around this base.
Roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, delicata or butternut squash and Brussels sprouts are easy to roast and bring warmth and depth to winter salads. For the photo above I cut up two Yukon gold potatoes and one large sweet potato (aka yam), tossed with a little avocado (or olive or coconut) oil, salt and pepper, and roasted at 375 degrees until tender and lightly caramelized. Add or substitute a chopped parsnip, a carrot or two or a package of butternut squash to the potatoes and make them for dinner with enough leftovers for a salad or two. Give them a quick warm up before adding to your salad. (You can also boil or steam a red or yellow potato and put it on top of the salad greens. Add dressing or sour cream and you’re good to go.)
Frozen, Bottled or Canned Additions
Steam green beans, peas or edamame just until cooked. Add chopped onion and a can of Cannelini or garbanzo beans, toss with a simple vinaigrette, and you have a salad within a salad that will keep in the refrigerator for days. Artichoke hearts, green or black olives and roasted red peppers, thinly sliced, add flavor and color. Serve this salad at room temperature or nuke it for 20 seconds in a microwave to take the chill off. Add on top of the greens.
Whatever you have around works: Rotisserie chicken, thinly sliced luncheon meats, sliced beef, fresh fish or tuna fish, tempe, tofu or seitan, a warm hard boiled egg. Again, warm it up if it’s a leftover or add it freshly cooked.
If you didn’t put them in the cooked salad, add olives, artichoke hearts, fresh avocado slices, even Roma tomatoes if you can find any that have flavor.
Add some cheese if you want. Blue, Gorgonzola, or soft goat cheese work or cut up cheddar, Jack, etc. in small cubes. Add crumbled bacon, lightly toasted walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds if you like some crunch.
Finish with a vinaigrette dressing and you have a fabulous, warm salad even when it’s zero outside.
Simple Vinaigrette Dressing
Traditionally, vinaigrettes are made with 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or lemon juice. Try this ratio then adjust as needed.
It’s easiest to make dressings in a jar. Add oil, vinegar, a spritz of fresh lemon juice if you have it (brightens the dressing), a dab or more of Dijon mustard if you have it, a pinch or two of sugar or agave nectar, a few drops – 1/2 teaspoon Rain’s Choice vanilla extract (based on amount of dressing you’re making), sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a shake or two of paprika (I like Spanish smoked paprika). Put the lid on the jar and shake until well blended or even partially emulsified. Taste, adjust oil, vinegar, seasonings, etc. and it’s ready! I usually make up enough dressing for several days at a time.
Michele Anna Jordan’s book, Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings (Harvard Common Press, 2013 ) also has salad and dressing recipes.