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:
• Buy a salad spinner if you don't have 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.
• Make salads in advance. 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.
• 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.
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 halved or chopped walnuts
2 heads watercress
2 to 4 ounces blue cheese
Sherry or balsamic vinaigrette (see box)
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 turnip through 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.
Place walnuts on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees, until fragrant and lightly brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside.
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.
To assemble, place watercress in large bowl and add roasted vegetables and nuts. Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette 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.
Super Duper Tre-Colori Fattoush
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 pita chips make any salad more substantial. But you also could 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
Trim fronds from fennel and reserve for another use. Trim any brown spots from base and sides of fennel, then slice in half, through base. Slice bulb very thin, parallel to 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.
Slice endive and radicchio into 1/4-inch strips. Place in cold water with fennel and add arugula. Spin dry.
Slice onion very thin and immerse in cold water, separate from the other vegetables.
To assemble salad, drain onion and pat dry. Place endive, radicchio, fennel and arugula in a large bowl. Add onion 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, then adjust seasoning.
• Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: To make pita croutons, cut pita (regular or whole wheat) into bite-size pieces with scissors. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until they are crisp but have not browned, about 7 to 10 minutes.
Creamy Avocado-Artichoke Salad
Look for fancy artichokes with the stems attached and 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 head Boston lettuce
1/2 pound oil-packed artichokes
1 ripe Haas avocado
Mustard-shallot vinaigrette (see info on dressings, below)
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.
Cut artichoke stems into 1-inch segments; slice the artichoke "heads," through the hearts, into quarters.
Cut avocado in half lengthwise. Remove pit and skin. Cut halves in half again, lengthwise, and then slice into 1/4-inch slices.
Place greens in a large bowl with most of the artichokes and avocado. Drizzle with a little vinaigrette, 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.