Seasonal salads to get you through the February doldrums

In the haze of February’s indecisive weather, the motivation to eat cold raw things dwindles to an all-time low. Tender leaves seem way too wimpy, cucumbers feel too cool, and anemic tomatoes are a nonstarter. Still, it’s commonly agreed that skipping vegetables for an extended length of time can cause scurvy — or at least a creeping sense of guilt.

Winter salads should not aspire to the carefree minimalism of their summer counterparts. They need to be cozy, thoughtful, and filling. One approach is the warm salad, though there may be some debate as to what that actually is. Some define it as a plate that starts with room-temperature greens drizzled with a warm vinaigrette to wilt them. But the plate can also be heated with just-cooked beans, meat, roasted vegetables, or grains. You can’t  go wrong with a soft-cooked egg, turning the yolk into the dressing. The key is not to overdo the warm, otherwise it’s a bowl of cooked food and not a salad.

“There really is a fine line,” says Parc executive chef William Quinn, whose shrimp and avocado salad with lemon beurre blanc sets the standard for classic and warm. “To me, a warm salad has to have a bright element with a mix of textures and flavors that one would associate with a salad.”

Another approach is to keep it cool but stick with stalwart greens. With its pallor, endive embodies the colorless days of winter, but the crisp, slightly bitter petals stand up well to heartier dressings. Exhibit A: The classic French endive salad with blue cheese.

At Royal Boucherie in Old City, Nick Elmi takes a different tack, draping red and green endive leaves with a hazelnut and poppy-seed vinaigrette enriched with an egg yolk. Finely crushed hazelnuts, cubes of pickled pear, and a generous sprinkling of fresh herbs round out the plate with crunchy, bright, and grassy components. It’s what Elmi calls a “fork-and-knife salad” that gets every element into each bite.

“I don’t like blue cheese, so I wanted to come up with a composed, beautiful salad that would still be seasonal,” Elmi says. “I prefer simplicity in salad — four ingredients that taste good and balance each other out.”

Love it or hate it, the kale salad befits the season. Elmi, for one, is pro-baby kale. “At home, I will make a very simple salad with baby kale, balsamic vinegar, and oil, maybe grilled chicken on top.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Kale salad with kobocha squash, pickled onion, almonds, and buttermilk dressing from South.

For kale fence-sitters, the chewy, nutrient-dense leaves can be improved only by adding elements and textures. Even better, a bowl of kale can sit in the refrigerator on those days when something less virtuous is required. South restaurant’s take adds some Southern charm, with honey-glazed cubes of kabocha squash, pickled pearl onions, toasted almond slivers, and a comforting buttermilk dressing.

“The squash is caramelized to bring out sweetness, and that’s balanced out by the acid of the pickled onions and the creaminess of the buttermilk,” says chef Benjamin Bynum.

An alternative to the kale could be Swiss chard, which tastes less like minerals but which has a similarly robust structure. Shredded Brussels sprouts or cabbage can serve as a peppery slawlike base for mix-ins. Colorful chicories, like radicchio and escarole, are seasonal and hearty, though they rarely recede to the background.

“The chicories can be bitter, but acid will cut that or you can use a truffle oil to balance the bitterness,” says Nich Bazik, executive chef at the Good King Tavern in Bella Vista. “Salt also breaks down the compounds that make the leaves bitter and helps neutralize the flavor.”

Think also of flourishes like anchovies, olives, and briny cheeses like feta. Chicories also can be lightly roasted or grilled to bring out more sweetness.

A mix of raw and roasted radicchio appears in Food52’s cauliflower lentil salad, but only in tiny bites between the namesake ingredients. With chopped walnuts and feta or goat cheese crumbles, an unexpected sprinkling of tarragon, and a gutsy anchovy and currant dressing, it has  plenty of flavor and enough interest to merit repeat eatings.

Using greens as a smaller player or skipping them altogether can also change up the salad game.

Lightly cooked broccoli or raw or roasted root vegetables are a good place to start. The French also have a tradition here, with the celery rémoulade. At the Good King Tavern, the dish is dressed with a truffle vinaigrette in place of the typical mayonnaise.

“The truffle oil makes it lighter and more luxurious,” Bazik says. “I make the dressing with Dijon mustard, hazelnut oil, olive oil, chopped shallot, and champagne vinaigrette, and the salad gets some shaved black and watermelon radishes.”

Beets, carrots, celery root, kohlrabi can all be arranged in raw shreds, cooked cubes or slices, or some combination of all of the above.

“I like to make a beet salad with raw beets, sliced thin on the mandolin, golden beets that are pickled, and then red beets with horseradish and mustard seed,” Bynum says. “I’ll add blood orange supremes and goat cheese to the plate.”

Crisp fennel, juicy citrus, pomegranate seeds, and nuts (hazelnut, walnuts, pecans, or almonds) punctuate with texture, as does dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries and figs. When in doubt about the winter salad, think about whether those vegetables would seem alien on a snowy day, Quinn says.

“Seasonality is truly what makes [a winter salad] appropriate,” he says. “Techniques and conception are what makes it sing.”


Radicchio and Cauliflower With Currant-Anchovy Vinaigrette

4 serving(s)

A radicchio and cauliflower salad from “Food52 Mighty Salads.”

INGREDIENTS

1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed

½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or freshly ground black pepper

Kosher salt

1 head radicchio, cored and chopped

½ cup green lentils, rinsed and picked over

1 bay leaf

½ cup coarsely chopped fresh tarragon

1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts

3 ounces goat cheese or feta

For the Currant-Anchovy Vinaigrette:

3 anchovy fillets

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons minced shallots

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed

½ teaspoon honey

3 tablespoons currants

DIRECTIONS

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the cauliflower into a single layer on the baking sheet. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil, the Aleppo pepper, if using, and a pinch or two of salt to coat. (Add more oil if needed.) Spread into a single layer again and roast until the cauliflower is light brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, toss half of the radicchio with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When the cauliflower is light brown, scatter the remaining undressed radicchio on the sheet and roast until the radicchio is wilted and the cauliflower is tender, 3 to 5 minutes more. Let cool.

3. To make the vinaigrette, finely chop the anchovies and smash them into a paste with the side of a chef's knife. Combine with the remaining ingredients and whisk until emulsified. Add more lemon to taste.

4. Place the lentils, bay leaf, and a few pinches of salt in a saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by at least 1 inch (2.5 cm). Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Add additional water if needed. Drain well, discard the bay leaf, and transfer to the large bowl. Mix in enough vinaigrette to lightly coat and a few pinches of salt while the lentils are still warm.

5. Toss in the cauliflower-roasted radicchio, raw radicchio, tarragon, and walnuts to the bowl. Toss with more vinaigrette until evenly dressed. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice if needed. Add the remaining 1/4 cup tarragon if you wish. Just before serving, crumble the goat cheese over the salad and gently toss. Serve warm or at room temperature.

From Food52 Mighty Salads by the editors of Food52, 10 Speed Press

644 calories, 35 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 47 g fat, 73 mg cholesterol, 209 mg sodium, 11 g dietary fiber.


Local Kale and Kabocha Squash Salad

4 serving(s)

The kale salad with kobocha squash, pickled onion, almonds and buttermilk dressing from South Restaurant.

INGREDIENTS

2 bunches lacinato kale, cleaned, dried, and sliced crosswise in thin strips
1 small Kabocha squash, seeded and quartered
1 teaspoons Tupelo honey
3 red pearl onions
¼ cup white distilled vinegar
½ cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup buttermilk
¼ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set squash on a baking tray and roast until softened but still firm, about 45 minutes to an hour.

2. Allow to cool. Using a large spoon, scoop out the flesh from the skin. Dice into 1-inch cubes. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a nonstick pan and sauté the squash over medium heat until it starts to caramelize and take on color. Transfer squash to a small bowl and drizzle with honey. Set aside.

3. Combine vinegar, water, and sugar in a small pot. Add pearl onions and bring to a simmer. Cool gently for 15 minutes and allow to cool. Remove onions from brine and cut in quarters.

4. Combine buttermilk, sour cream, and lemon juice to make dressing. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Assemble salad by dressing the kale and almonds with the buttermilk dressing. Top the salad with honey-glazed squash and pickled red pearl onions.

Recipe Courtesy of Benjamin Bynum, South Restaurant

183 calories, 5 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 16 g sugar, 6 g fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 58 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber.


Endive Salad with Poppy Seed Hazelnut Vinaigrette and Pickled Pear

4 serving(s)

An endive salad at Royal Boucherie.

INGREDIENTS

For pickled pear:

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup water

2/3 cup champagne vinegar

2 Bosc pears, firm but ripe, peeled and diced

For vinaigrette:

1 egg yolk

½ tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ cup champagne vinegar

1¼ cups blended oil (grapeseed or canola and olive oil)

¼ cup hazelnut oil

1 teaspoon salt

White pepper

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

For salad:

2 heads yellow endive

2 heads red endive

½ cup toasted hazelnuts, crushed

3 tablespoons fresh herbs (chive, parsley, tarragon, chervil), minced

DIRECTIONS

1. Make the pickled pear: In a small pot, add the sugar, water, and vinegar. Over low heat, warm and stir until the sugar is just melted. Cool completely. Add the pears and soak in the pickling liquid for at least an hour and up to a week.
2. In a large bowl, add the egg yolk, honey, and Dijon mustard and whisk until emulsified. Slowly add the vinegar while whisking. Continue to whisk and slowly stream the blended oil into the bowl to create an emulsion. (Chef trick: Lightly wet a towel, twist it up and make a circle with it, place the bowl on top, and whisk. This should be stable enough so you don't need three hands.) After the blended oil is incorporated, add the hazelnut oil. When finished, fold in the poppy seeds. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. If the dressing is too thick, add a teaspoon of water. (Recipe makes enough for extra dressing; reserve in the refrigerator for up to a week.)
3. For the salad, cut the bottoms off the endives and separate into spears; combine in a large bowl. Liberally dress the endive with the poppy seed dressing and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the endive on a large platter, alternating the red and the yellow. Sprinkle the crushed hazelnuts, herbs, and pickled pears over everything. Serve some extra vinaigrette on the side as needed.

Recipe courtesy of Nicholas Elmi, Royal Boucherie

448 calories, 10 g protein, 56 g carbohydrates, 32 g sugar, 24 g fat, 52 mg cholesterol, 747 mg sodium, 21 g dietary fiber.