Maybe cavemen refrained from eating salad during the winter, but modern homo sapiens are loath to give up their fresh greens during the year's coldest months.
That said, there is such a thing as a "winter salad." It's heartier than the warm-weather variety, perhaps containing some cooked elements such as roasted parsnips, a robust cheese or a creamy dressing.
No matter the season, making a salad requires some basic know-how. Before you embark upon our three recipes, consider these tips:
If you don't have a salad spinner, buy one. A wet salad is a bad salad, and there's no better way to dry washed greens than to spin them in a spinner. Try to get a spinner with a closed bottom (no holes) so that you can soak your greens in it as well. Zyliss and Oxo both make fine ones.
Salads take well to advance prep. You can soak greens for hours in cold water. If you don't have room in the refrigerator, add a few freezer packs to the soaking water. Once you've spun them dry, place greens in a resealable plastic bag lined, on one side, with a paper towel. Greens stored this way will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days. Do not dress salad until the last minute.
You need a big bowl to toss a salad. The tossing bowl should be able to accommodate at least twice the amount of salad you plan to use. Use your hands or tongs to toss the greens. If you are cooking for company, you may want to transfer the salad from the tossing bowl to a smaller serving bowl, or serve it on individual plates.
ROASTED ROOT SALAD
We made this salad with parsnips, carrots and a turnip, but you could use almost any combination of root vegetables - consider celery root or kohlrabi or beets - or just one or two. A mandoline, or the slicing blade of a food processor, is handy for getting nice, even, thin slices.
2 parsnips, peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, peeled
1 small turnip, peeled
1/2 to 1 cup walnuts
2 heads watercress
2 to 4 ounces blue cheese
Sherry or balsamic vinaigrette (see "Salad dressing" below)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice parsnips into very thin "coins" and place on a nonstick (or parchment-lined) baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and toss coins with hands, coating with oil and arranging into one layer. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until slices are lightly browned. Repeat with carrots. Quarter the turnipthrough the root end, then thinly slice the quarters. Roast the vegetables individually as they cook at different rates. When they are all roasted, set aside to cool.
2. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees, until they become fragrant and brown lightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside.
3. Cut the top leaves off the watercress and immerse in cold water. (Save the stems to saute later with olive oil and garlic.) Spin dry.
4. To assemble, place watercress in large bowl and add roasted vegetables and nuts. Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of dressing and toss, adding more dressing if needed. Crumble half of cheese on top and toss gently again. Transfer to a serving bowl or individual dishes and top with remaining cheese. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
CREAMY AVOCADO-ARTICHOKE SALAD
The avocado and tender Boston lettuce leaves conspire to make this salad both fresh and creamy. Look for fancy artichokes with the stems attached packed in oil, rather than in vinegar. Many Italian grocers stock these in their prepared-food cases. It's important that the artichokes and avocado be at room temperature.
1 small bunch parsley
1 small head Boston lettuce
1/2 pound oil-packed artichokes
1 ripe Haas avocado
Mustard-shallot vinaigrette (see "Salad dressing" below)
1. Remove leaves from parsley. Immerse in cold water. Discard any browned or cracked lettuce leaves and tear remaining leaves into bite-size pieces. Soak lettuce with parsley leaves then spin dry.
2. Cut artichoke stems into 1-inch segments; slice the artichoke "heads," through the hearts, into quarters.
3. Cut avocado in half lengthwise. Remove pit and skin. Cut halves in half again, lengthwise, and then slice into 1/4-inch slices.
4. Place greens in a large bowl with most of the artichokes and avocado. Drizzle with a little dressing, toss, and then add more dressing if necessary. Pour into a serving bowl or platter or onto individual serving plates, and garnish with remaining artichokes and avocado pieces. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SUPER DUPER TRE-COLORI FATTOUSH
Specific quantities here are flexible; just make sure there are roughly equal amounts of endive, radicchio, arugula and fennel. It's also important to use really good olive oil.
"Fattoush" is a Middle Eastern bread salad; I find that the pita chips make any salad more substantial. But you could also substitute shards of Parmesan (shaved with a vegetable peeler) for the pita.
1 small fennel
1 small endive
1 small radicchio
1 to 2 cups baby arugula or mature arugula, sliced into ribbons
1 small red onion
Pita croutons (see note)
Salt and pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, halved
1. Trim fronds from fennel and reserve for another use. Trim base and sides of fennel bulb of any brown spots, then slice in half, through base. Slice bulb very thin, parallel to bottom of base, i.e., into half rings. (A mandoline or food processor slicing blade is handy here.) Immerse sliced fennel in a large bowl of cold water.
2. Slice endive and radicchio into ¼-inch strips. Place in cold water with fennel and add arugula. Spin dry.
3. Slice onion very thin and immerse in cold water, separate from the other vegetables.
4. To assemble salad, drain onion and pat dry. Place endive, radicchio, fennel and arugula in a large bowl. Add onions and pita croutons. Sprinkle with a good amount of salt and a good grinding of pepper. Drizzle on olive oil and squeeze the lemon half. The proportion you're going for is 3 parts oil to 1 part lemon. Toss and taste and then adjust seasoning. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
NOTE: To make pita croutons, cut pita (regular or whole wheat) into bite-sized pieces with scissors. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until they are crisp but have not browned.
The simplest dressing involves drizzling olive oil and either lemon juice or wine vinegar directly on the salad along with some salt and pepper, but you can also make it in a separate vessel. I find a screw-top jar the perfect tool for making salad dressing; make sure it will hold double the amount you plan to make; the headroom is necessary for proper shaking.
SIMPLE VINAIGRETTE: In a screw-top jar, combine 1 part vinegar or lemon juice with 3 to 4 parts good, extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Shake.
MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE: Shake the vinegar with a spoonful of Dijon mustard before adding the oil.
SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE: Add a small amount of minced shallot to the vinegar.
GARLIC VINAIGRETTE: Place a cut clove of garlic in the vinaigrette, but remove it after a few hours or it will get too strong.
SHERRY VINAIGRETTE: Use sherry vinegar for a mellow, full flavor.
BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE: Use balsamic vinegar or, for a less sweet dressing, a mixture of balsamic and red wine vinegar.