Monday, February 8, 2010

Three Winter Salads

When I decided to write this article, my biggest problem became selecting just three of my favorite winter salads. This season may not appear to be a natural for the salad bar but the apparent lack of ingredients turns out to be a creative catalyst for possibilities one might not consider when everything is in abundance. With so many ideas, I decided to think of this entry as Winter Salads, part one and return with more winter salads at a later date.

 During winter turn first to citrus, herbs and root vegetables and pull in support from nuts, seeds and cheeses to make salads an everyday part of your meals no matter how chilly the temperature outside.

Even with the cold snaps we've had this yer, winter is citrus season.   A wonderful and ridiculously easy intermezzo salad from the northern region of Italy is made from orange slices drizzled with a flavorful extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with dried oregano and black pepper. My version adds shaved fennel and a pinch of salt but the original is terrific and child-friendly. Oranges handle that special thirst you get from being in dry, indoor environments during the cold months. You may not think of combining herbs and olive oil with citrus but this is a cool way to enjoy oranges. Any Italian meal will show this salad off well. I also like it with fish and poultry.


Orange and Fennel Salad
Serves 3-4

Ingredients
2 –3 medium sized oranges, seedless preferred
1/2 fennel bulb
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves)
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus extra

Method
Prepare the oranges by removing the peel and pith with a sharp knife. Then slice the oranges to reveal pretty rounds.  Remove frond top from the fennel bulb and cut in half. (Reserve unused halve to roast or put in a salad another day.) Use a mandolin to shave fennel slices or slice paper-thin with a chef’s knife. Arrange oranges and fennel on a platter or large plate. Sprinkle with oregano, black pepper and salt. (Salad may be prepared up to this point, covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated.) Just before serving, drizzle olive oil over oranges and fennel.

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Fresh herbs help boost flavor in winter salads. These days it’s much easier to find fresh herbs at the grocery store and my Spring Roll Hand Salad takes full advantage of the availability of cilantro and mint. This salad features another basic winter salad ingredient, root vegetables, in the form of shaved carrots in the salad and grated carrots in the dressing. The dressing is also infused with fresh ginger, a spice that provides a warming heat to the cold days. This dressing will remind you of ones you have tasted at Japanese restaurants served over ice burg lettuce.

Wrapped in a flexible rice wrapper, the salad is fun if you have children in the house and travels well to school or office. It is equally good and has lots of eye appeal without the wrapper so don't skip this one if you'd like to serve it simply but beautifully on salad plates. This is a nice side salad to seafood meals, Asian stir fries and veggie burgers.


Spring Roll Hand Salad with Ginger-Carrot Dressing
Serves 4

Ingredients
Dressing: carrot ginger- makes 1/2 cup, easily doubled
2 medium carrot, grated finely
2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and grated finely
2 T rice vinegar
2 t soy sauce
2 t sesame oil
1 t honey
2 T water
6 T vegetable oil

Salad
Lettuce- try outer leaves of iceberg, red leaf and green leaf varieties or a combination
Cucumber- peeled and julienned
Carrot, in thin slivers—use a vegetable peeler to get thin flexible slices
Avocado slices
Radishes- paper thin slices
Mint, basil, cilantro-- whole leaves

Wrap
4 rice wrappers

Method:
Prepare dressing. Grate carrot and ginger with a fine grater. Use the back of a spoon to easily remove the peel from ginger and store remainder in the freezer to use anytime. (Thank you Martin Yan for teaching me about ginger in a cooking demo years ago.) Place grated ingredients in the bowl of a small food processor or immersion blender. Add remaining ingredients, holding back on half the water and oil. Process to a smooth consistency and taste. Add oil and water to thin and adjust strength. (If you do not own a food processor or immersion blender, place ginger and carrots in a small, lidded jar with remaining ingredients and shake well. Your dressing will still taste great but will be a more "au natural" texture.)

Next, prepare salad filling ingredients. Thinly slice and lay ingredients out on a plate or chopping board so you can easily assemble hand rolls. Use a vegetable peeler to shave paper-thin slices of carrot. Julienne and thinly slice the other vegetables. Use herb leaves whole and leave a few leaves of lettuce in large pieces. Chop peanuts finely and set aside in a small bowl. If you are serving the salad without rice wrappers, arrange ingredients on large lettuce leaves in separate piles and allow diners to serve themselves from the shared platter. Pass the dressing.

The rice wrappers are easy to roll and very forgiving. Go for it. To make spring rolls, pour very hot water in a shallow pan, wide enough to fit a wrapper laid flat. Working one at a time, lay a wrapper in the hot water. In 20-30 seconds, the wrapper will have absorbed water and be completely flexible. Lay the wrapper on a tea towel to absorb excess moisture. Lay carrots strips and a few herb leaves in alternating stripes across center of rice wrapper and cover with a lettuce leaf. Fill the lettuce leaf with remaining ingredients placing peanuts in the center spot. Each roll will hold about 3/4-1 cup of salad. Now roll the lower side of the wrapper over the salad mound and bring the two adjacent sides in as if you were folding an egg roll or package. Roll the top side of the wrapper over the lower edge. The moistened rice starch in the wrappers will hold the rolls together without any extra binding. The rolls can be made a few hours ahead and wrapped in a moist tea towel then placed in a plastic bag to hold until dinner-time. To bring them to school or office wrap them well and place on an ice pack in you lunch box.

Serve Spring Roll Hand Salads with dip on the side. Everyone will enjoy an individual ramekin of Carrot-Ginger Dressing to enjoy.

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Our last salad is popular at our house almost nightly during the winter months.  Variations occur with available ingredients but it always includes a cheese, nuts or seeds and a starring role for a vegetable.   I mentioned that root vegetables are a great ingredient in winter salads. Northern cultures in cold climates accross Europe handle fresh vegetable cravings year-round with salads that include carrots, beets, celery leaves, radishes and more.  Cheeses, nuts and seeds contribute complimentary tastes.   Lettuce takes on a supporting role while these flavorful ingredients step forward. The key is to create a salad with just a few items. This salad of roasted beets, goat cheese and roasted pistachios over red leaf lettuce is a good example. Another variation is celery leaves, radishes, blue cheese and walnuts over lettuce. A simple vinaigrette is recommended.

Beet, Goat Cheese and Pistachio Salad
For each person:
1 small roasted beet
1 ounce goat cheese
2 teaspoons pistachios
1-2 cups lettuce

Method
To roast beets, preheat oven to 450˚F. Wash beets but do not peel. Wrap each beet in tin foil and bake 30-50 minutes, depending on size of beet. 1-2 inch diameter beets take about 30-40 minutes, larger beets will take 50 minutes. Beets are cooked when a fork pierces the flesh easily and beet feels tender in center. Carefully open foil wrapping and allow beets to cool about 15 minutes before peeling skin off. To peel, cut top from beet then, with a paper towel run skin off. Skin will peel away easily. If you are preparing a large quantity of beets, wear food-grade plastic gloves to prevent skin from staining. If you are making just a few, wash red stains from your hands with soap and a shake of salt to act as a mild abrasive.

To roast nuts, preheat oven to 350˚F. Place nuts on an un-greased cookie sheet. You may leave the nuts plain or toss them with a touch of olive oil and salt. Roast for 1-2 minutes, checking frequently. (Nuts burn easily and different varieties torch faster than others. Pistachios, walnuts and pecans need less time than peanuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds. Roasting nuts brings out more flavor, your goal for winter salads.

Slice or quarter beets and lay them on a bed of lettuce. Garnish salad with goat cheese and nuts. You may use soft or aged goat cheese for this recipe. Both are divine. Even cream cheese sprinkled with some herbs is a good foil for beets.

This salad accompanies all kinds of grilled and roasted meats, stews and vegetable bakes.