Who makes salad in the winter time? (Me, that's who)

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As I sit here writing this, it couldn’t be more wintery out. The wind is blowing so hard, I can’t tell if it’s still snowing or it’s coming off the roof. My winter greenhouses are struggling under the weight, and I’ve taken to going outside to brush them off every hour to prevent them from collapsing. I’m pretty over shoveling - I’ve already hit my driveway three times in as many hours, with no end in site. I’m starving, but there’s not a chance in hell I’m braving the roads to hit up the grocery store. Luckily I have a crisper bin full of veggies: kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, along with some sweet potatoes in the pantry. Who makes a salad in the winter time? Me, because it’s the easiest thing to make without a recipe.

Bricolage in action: throwing together a bunch of seemingly random ingredients

I throw another log on the wood burning stove and get to work slicing the kale into tiny ribbons - stems and all, because I’m feeling brave...and bit lazy. After roughly chopping the cauliflower, I carefully cube the sweet potato so the bits are smaller than the cauliflower chunks. I want it to all finish at the same time, but I only want to use one sheet pan; if I don’t cut the sweet potato into the right size, it’ll take too long to cook. Into a bowl they go, along with some bacon fat from yesterday’s breakfast and a healthy pinch of salt and pepper. I could add additional seasonings - dried thyme, for example, would go really well here - but I decide to keep things simple and shove them into a 450° F oven. I’m hungry, so I want them to cook quickly, but I’m also looking forward to the crispy, caramelized edges that will occur cooking them in such a high-temperature oven.

Brussels sprouts ABSOLUTELY amaze me…how could i hate this vegetable as a child?

Brussels sprouts ABSOLUTELY amaze me…how could i hate this vegetable as a child?

As I shut the oven door, I remember I had pulled out Brussels sprouts, too. I usually like roasting these, but I don’t want to delay the cook time on my other veggies any longer. I could saute them in a cast iron skillet, and I think about it for a minute before deciding shred them instead, adding them to the kale mix. The flavors are complementary - they’re both bitter, but the tiny Brussels sprouts ribbons will also have a sweet nuttiness to them - and the color contrast of light green on dark green will be stunning.

Is this enough? I wonder. I’m hungry after all that shoveling, and I’m questioning whether my salad has enough bulk. Back to the fridge I go, peering behind the jugs of raw milk and around the jars of pickles preserving my summer harvest. I spy a container of cooked quinoa: perfect! The grain will add a pleasant grainy, chewy texture to my salad, plus quinoa happens to be a complete protein, so it’ll help fill me up. I also have some black beans in the fridge, but that would be too much. Greens, vegetables, and quinoa should be more than enough to satisfy my taste buds and my rumbling stomach.

All I need now is a dressing. I don’t really feel like making one - I’ve already expended more energy on lunch than I’d prefer. Back to the fridge I go: what are my options? There’s a container of hummus sitting right next to a zested lemon (I’m forever zesting lemons and not needing the juice until later). The little wheels in my head start turning; can I make this work? I think I can! Hummus is full-flavored and creamy; if I smear a tablespoon or so onto the bottom of the bowl, I can drag the salad through the hummus as I eat, coating each leaf with a dollop before I take a bite.

My veggies are finished roasting and I’m ready to start assembling. I give my kale and Brussels mix a brief massage to break down their tough fibers and soften the edges before drizzling in a squeeze of lemon and a good glug of olive oil into the bowl (about three times as much oil as lemon, but I’m not really measuring). A sprinkle of salt, a few crack of black pepper, and I give it a taste: perfect! The hummus goes into the bottom of my serving bowl, followed by the dressed kale and leftover quinoa - which is still cold, but my veggies are quite hot, so I think it’ll all balance out just fine. I add the veggies and take a bite: warm, full of textures and flavors, and ultimately filling. What more could I ask for?

Making a case for winter salads

A winter salad might not be warm and comforting like a bowl of soup or a burrito bowl, but I’m surprised at how delicious and satisfying it is. I don’t often think about salads in the wintertime - without any of summer’s crisp romaine or juicy mix of tender lettuces in my fridge, it doesn’t really come up. But eating this salad reminds me that maybe I need to be thinking outside the box more often. A winter salad is a good opportunity to celebrate hearty greens like kale, Asian greens, collards, and mustard greens (all of which can be massaged and used to great effect as the green component of salad).

It’s also cool how easily I was able to throw a meal together! A bunch of leftovers from the fridge and a few roasted vegetables was all I needed. If I didn’t have Brussels sprouts, I could have shredded cabbage instead (or, skipped it altogether). Without sweet potatoes, I could have used another starchy vegetable like winter squash, potatoes, or even rutabagas (tossed with a little apple cider vinegar to bring out their subtly sweet, apple-like flavor). In the absence of hummus, I could have made a creamy dressing using yogurt or buttermilk, or I could have made an aggressive Caesar-like anchovy dressing using mayonnaise or by emulsifying some oil into an egg yolk.

When you think outside the box, the possibilities become endless, even for something as seemingly impossible as a salad in the middle of winter.

Are you making salads in the winter? What are your favorite combinations? Even if salads aren’t on your radar, what are you strategies for whipping up quick and easy meals like this?

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Lindsay D. Mattison

Hi, I’m Lindsay D. Mattison, a former Chef turned freelance writer living in Durango, CO. I started a food blog, Zest and Tang, to share my passion for food and my love of seasonal, from-scratch cooking. I’m in the process of writing a cookbook with Rainshadow Organics in Bend, OR, and would love to chat about food and recipe writing opportunities!