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The Cookstr 10: Ten Satisfying Winter Salads

February 26, 2010

We can probably all agree that the officially endorsed seasons of salads are spring and summer, but to sideline salads in the winter would be a mistake. A fresh tangle of winter produce, often combined with something a little heartier, elevates said salad into a real meal, and is a great pleasure. And while we’re by no mean shoving that gratin dish back in the cabinet, or bidding farewell to our slow cooker for the season, a salad is a nice change of pace. As an appetizer, side dish, main dish, or sophisticated after-the-main-meal course, cold weather salads encourage the cook to think outside the head of lettuce, which leads to some pretty interesting combinations.

Jamie Oliver's Favorite Winter Salad. Photo by David Loftus.

Furthermore, while at the gym earlier this week, one of us (we won’t say who) was cheerfully and unsolicitedly told by a passing trainer that Memorial Day and bathing suit season were only 98 days away. After beating him severely about the head and shoulders with a dried chorizo that I (I mean, we) keep handy for such purposes, we did agree that perhaps not everything on the dinner table needs a bubbling crust.

Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner's Shrimp, Grapefruit, and Avocado Salad

1. Jamie Oliver’s Favorite Winter Salad. Boy, this is pretty with its sparkling nuggets of pomegranate and jumble of green colors. Crisp, anise-y fennel is definitely a love-it-or-leave-it vegetable, but if you haven’t made up your mind, this is a delightful place to give it another whirl. Slicing it as thinly as possible is the key, allowing its flavor to contribute subtly to the mix. Oh, and PS: the slices of fried halloumi cheese are to die for.

2. Susan Spicer’s Green Salad with Dried Figs, Blue Cheese, Walnuts, and Sherry Vinaigrette. This is extremely sophisticated, but not as complicated as its flavors would imply. A sweet and assertive combination of plumped dried figs, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts is pulled together with a vinaigrette that features sherry vinegar–one of those ingredients chefs adore, and with good reason. Its smooth nuanced flavor adds a lot of depth to salad dressings.

3. Diane Rossen Worthington’s Belgian Endive Salad with Pears, Gorgonzola, and Pecans. Mixing varieties of endive, when available, adds another level of visual appeal to this salad. It makes a nice, ultra chic ending to a meal, since it has the cheese and fruit courses built right in. The sweet burst of pear is a real treat.

4. Alice Waters’ Cabbage Salad with Apples and Walnuts. Savoy cabbage is the most stylish of all the cabbages, in our estimation. With its feathery edges and understated color, it just comes across as very smart and somewhat sexy. Especially here, slivered into a chiffonade (you know, a fluffy pile of very thin slices), tossed with crunchy apples, walnuts, and a slightly creamy, slightly acidic dressing.

5. Padma Lakshmi’s Pondicherry Lentil Salad. This salad is a veritable United Nations of flavors that all come together in the name of lentils. The recipe calls for small dark lentils that hold their shape well during the cooking process. It’s vegetarian-friendly and substantial, and your guests will enjoy trying to nail down the mix of flavors that comprise the dish, such as apple, jalapeño, lemon, sesame, ginger and coconut.

Padma Lakshmi's Pondicherry Lentil Salad

6. Jerry Traunfeld’s Dilled Celery, Asian Pear, and Hazelnut Salad. Asian pears have an enticing snappy texture and a delicate juiciness that makes them great salad contestants. Celery and nuts contribute their crunch, optional hazelnut oil adds sultriness, and dill sails in to provide freshness. A wedge of your favorite blue cheese served alongside elevates the dish into lunch or a salad course to be reckoned with.
7. Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner’s Shrimp, Grapefruit, and Avocado Salad. A great choice for brunch, lunch, or a lighter dinner. Once you start to play around with fish sauce, an essential component in Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisines, you’ll fall hard for this unique seasoning. Be warned that its pungent odor doesn’t do justice to the complex layers of flavor the sauce imparts to dishes like this vibrant salad. The bright flavors of lime, grapefruit and mint are so invigorating during these gray days of late winter.

8. Sarah Leah-Chase’s Warm Mushroom and Arugula Salad. How lavish warm salads feel, like someone went the extra step, which of course is exactly right. Woodsy mushrooms are quickly sautéed, bolstered by anchovies, olives, and a splash of balsamic vinegar and lemon. The whole warm mix is tossed with peppery arugula and crumbled blue cheese and mounded up on plates, ready to combat the chill in the air.

9. Bob Sloan’s Japanese Beef Salad. This is hearty and light at the same time, a great main course salad. Very thin slices of flank steak are tossed with broccoli florets, green beans and bell pepper, and then a really simple pantry dressing with sesame, soy, ginger and garlic pulls everything together.

10. Deborah Madison’s Beet Salad with Ricotta Salata and Olives. Beets may have their skeptics, but the die-hard fans who love them will lurk over a salad bowl, plucking out all these wine-colored chunks the way your roommate used to pick out the bits of cookie dough from the ice cream (what? That didn’t happen to you?). All of this is to say, since the beets here are the stars, supported by lightly salty crumbles of ricotta salata and Kalamata olives, there’s no need for jostling.

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