Warm Salads for winter
You may think salads are a spring or summer dish, but winter can also be prime time for fresh salads. Not only are fruit and vegetables plentiful in winter, but you can prepare warm winter salads that are hearty, healthy and delish!
Winter veggies for warm salads
Some of the best ingredients to use for warm salads are tubers, leafy greens and squash. For example, radicchio, fennel, spinach, cabbage turnips and pumpkin are all tasty ingredients for a warm winter salad, and these veggies should be plentiful at your farmers market during the next few months. Simply walk around your farmers market and pick out a few vegetables you enjoy and that work well together to add to your salad.
Winter fruits and nuts
Another addition to your winter salad is fruit and nuts. Fruits like figs, pomegranates, persimmons, cranberries and rhubarb are some perfect additions to warm winter salads. Sprinkling pomegranate seeds or fresh cranberries overtop a warm salad adds freshness and brightness to a pile of sauteed vegetables. For some added crunch, you can add any kind of toasted nut; walnuts, pecans, pine nuts and Brazil nuts are just a few examples. Again, walk around your farmers market and pick a few fresh fruits to mix in for extra sweetness.
Most salads often include a protein like grilled chicken or tuna, so of course you can add these to your warm salad. But instead of adding cold, leftover chicken, prepare some fresh chicken, and keep it warm to top. You can also add some crispy bacon, freshly cooked ahi tuna, shredded pork, grilled salmon or even tasty fried oysters. Whichever protein you choose, make sure to keep it warm. You don't want warm veggies mixed with a cold piece of chicken. If you're really adventurous, add even more interesting proteins like pork belly, lamb or beef.
Besides the main ingredients, you should add a few additional items for flavor and texture. Cheeses like Gorgonzola, Parmigiano, Gruyere or Comte are perfect for warm salads. These are all hearty cheeses in flavor and texture. You can crumble, shred or grate these cheeses right overtop as a final garnish, or you can add them in larger portions by placing a large chunk overtop the warm vegetables and letting it slightly melt. Additionally, seeds and dried fruits, such as sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or raisins, are great for adding texture. Be sure to keep similar flavor profiles in mind throughout the salad; you don't want to add too many ingredients that go off in too many different flavors.
You have two options for the dressing: warm or cold. The ingredients in your warm salad can help determine if a cold or warm dressing is more suitable. A warm bacon dressing is a classic topping for a spinach salad, so for a first-time warm salad, this might be the way to go. You can also do a simple warm oil-and-vinegar dressing overtop a fresh veggie salad to highlight the wonderful flavors of the winter vegetables. A cold yogurt- or mayonnaise-based dressing will work for a salad with heavy protein like pork, chicken or lamb. If you already have a warm vegetable base topped with a warm protein, adding a chilled dressing will be just perfect to create a unique sensation in your mouth.
What's most important when preparing your warm winter salad is that you keep balance in flavors, textures and temperatures. First, make sure your vegetables pair well with your fruit or cheeses (or additional ingredients) and your dressing. The flavors should blend well, but you should also be able to taste each individual ingredient without masking flavors. As far as textures go, a salad should have a nice blend of silky, crunchy, even (slightly) chewy mouthfeels. Don't add too much of one or the other texture to get a nice balance of each per bite. Finally, temperature is of course a concern in a warm salad. You definitely don't want steaming-hot vegetables or proteins; you want to shoot for just warm. Let your ingredients cool off a little before mixing them together. However, if you're using leafy greens, be sure they don't wilt and lose their color before being served.
Warm chicken-and-spinach salad
Serving size 4
Warm endive-and-pear salad
Serving size 4
Note: This dressing can also be warmed in a skillet.
Warm beef-and-Feta salad
Serving size 4
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