Anyone who knows me knows that I ardently adore salads. I like mine in gargantuan portions, drizzled lavishly with a punchy vinaigrette, brimming with handfuls of fresh summer produce and tufts of herbs. Then, tossed very well – until you do not know where one flavour begins and another ends.
Summer salads, served chilled and with minimal cooking involved, are very much celebrated. They are deployed consistently throughout the warmer seasons for speedy lunches or served in great bowls during evening soirees. Summer, sun and salad – a truly glittering trifecta.
But when the mercury plummets, our beloved salads are all too often cast to the wayside. It makes sense. Who in their right mind would pick them over finding solace in a hearty bowl of gooey casserole? Why pick a salad over a warm, resplendent pasta dish? I am here in an effort to make a convincing case for the warm salad. Yes, salad that is cooked and served hot. A dish which, to some, may go against everything that a salad should be. I am by no means suggesting that you forgo piling your plates high with spaghetti bolognese and drowning it under an avalanche of parmesan. I am simply here to say that salad deserves a seat at the table (quite literally) this winter.
Warm salads rely less on verdant leafy vegetables (goodbye, iceberg!), and more on robust and substantial root vegetables. The leaves that do make an appearance lose a bit of their raw vegetal taste under the heat of a hot vinaigrette. But no salad is ever complete without an injection of freshness. I like to throw in rehydrated cranberries (let them plump up by steeping them in some apple juice), pearls of pomegranate arils, or slivers of Kalamata olives.
Warm salads are marginally more complex than their traditional summertime counterparts. Winter vegetables – squash, Brussel’s sprouts, purple cabbage, sweet potatoes, rutabaga – perform best when roasted low and slow, until meltingly soft and yielding. It takes time to warm up the dressing, whisking it in a saucepan until you see the barest smile of a simmer; then using it to dress your leafy greens, its residual heat starting to wilt them ever so slightly. But whatever time you lose in the roasting, and boiling, you gain by avoiding having to chill your salad – for no summertime number is as good as it is straight from the refrigerator, vegetables crisp and glistening.
What makes this a salad, and not just a mélange of vegetables? The secret lies in that warm dressing. It pulls together every element and entwines them into one glorious dish. Yes, you could use store-bought (cue Ina Garten montage) but there is a certain kind of pleasure that comes from making one’s own vinaigrette. The formula is simple: one part acid to three parts oil, giving you a base that oscillates between tangy and silky. Beyond that, you can embellish to your heart’s content – a dollop of wholegrain mustard, a flourish of smoky sea salt, a squirt of agave – the possibilities are endless.
While I implore you to try making a winter salad that is uniquely your own, and take delight in its many incarnations, here is a ratio for one that I can never tire of. It is a salad that enraptures and captivates, it is a salad that will make you friends.
- ¼ tsp strong mustard, optional
- 25ml apple cider or balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp honey, maple syrup or any sweetener
- 1 tsp regular or vegan mayo, or yoghurt (optional)
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 kg heavy root vegetable of your choice (carrots, parsnips, winter squash, swede, Brussel’s sprouts… the world is your oyster)
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp oil
- ½ cup crushed seeds or nuts (walnuts or pecans are particularly wintery, or if you are feeling limited by your student budget pumpkin seeds work a treat)
- ½ cup dried fruit (cranberries are devastatingly seasonal)
- ½ cup cooked grains (wholegrain rice, couscous, quinoa, pearl barley… go crazy)
- 2-3 cups of fresh greens, spinach works particularly well
- Peel and chop all your root vegetables, toss in oil with salt and pepper, and roast in a 200C oven for 35-40 minutes on a well-greased baking tray, or until tender and yielding. Certain veg takes a shorter time in the oven (I am looking at you… sprouts), so keep an eye on them.
Image Credit: Sharon Chen