Six steps to a great winter salad
We’re all a bit salad-happy here at the moment. Summer may, at last, be over, but we’re still craving the freshness, health-giving qualities and general zippiness of fresh, raw vegetables and leaves, put together with a few other interesting ingredients and a bit of care. Lunch, in particular, says salad time to us, especially a salad that can be packed in a container – or a jar, for the terminally on-trend – and taken to work or school.
The sturdier leaves and vegetables available at this time of year call out for big flavours and robust dressings and can even handle being dressed ahead of time – a bonus when you’re making a salad that needs to travel. If you’re making enough salad to last for a few days, though, you’re better off keeping the dressing in a separate container and just tossing through enough for each day.
So, this week, we’ve come up with a winter salad that you can make as it stands or that can serve as a sort of template for salads to come, based on the contents of your fridge and pantry and your own personal preferences/the unaccountable whims of those for whom you are privileged to cook.
For us, a good, all-bases-covered, main-course sort of winter salad needs:
1. Leafy greenery. Here we’ve used kale, but baby spinach, finely shredded cabbage or brussel sprouts, watercress, mache or rocket would all be good. Herbs come under this loose banner too – whatever your herb garden is still growing or any leftover half bunches from the salad drawer can go in, roughly plucked rather than chopped, for a longer life span.
2. Some extra veg – diced and roasted or finely sliced and raw. We love the addition of a sweet roasted vegetable to a salad – it could be beetroot, as it is below, cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potato, fennel, celeriac, carrot, baby tomatoes, eggplant. But we’re also fans of raw, crisp slices or julienne of carrots, beetroot, broccoli stem, celeriac, fennel, radishes… lightly pickling in some rice or white wine vinegar with a sprinkle of salt adds another layer of interest to them.
3. Something grainy/pulse-y – we happened to use spelt but similar grains like farro, barley or freekeh can be used pretty much interchangeably; if you’re avoiding gluten you could sub in brown rice, lentils or chickpeas; the grain and pulse-shy can go for quinoa or buckwheat.
4. Something nutty or seedy. We always toast nuts and seeds before using to refresh them and bring out their best flavour. Here we’ve used toasted pepitas to keep the salad school lunch box-friendly (no nuts) but toasted flaked almonds, walnuts, cashews or other seeds like sunflower and sesame all add a toasty crunch as well as the bonus of protein.
5. A protein element, like cheese ( feta, fresh mozzarella, goats cheese or labne), eggs, tofu, poached chicken breast or tuna. There would be nothing stopping you adding diced chorizo or sliced salami or prosciutto either.
6. An awesome dressing. While we’ll never give up a classic vinaigrette, these salads are boofy enough to cope with thicker, punchier dressings. Here we’re using tahini, cider vinegar, soy sauce and maple syrup but you can play around with any combination that appeals to you – yoghurt, mustard, miso, tahini, nut butters and pureed silken tofu make good thickening agents, soy, tamari or fish sauce could add salt, lemon or lime juice as well as rice/wine/cider vinegar provide sharpness and finely chopped garlic, ginger, shallots, chilli, citrus zest or herbs will all give a big flavour boost. If the dressing needs sweetness – and not all of them do – try maple syrup, honey or pomegranate molasses (which will also add extra tang). Thin the dressing to taste with a neutral tasting oil, like light olive oil or grape seed.
This template is obviously just the beginning – there’s a whole world of salady experimentation to be had out there. We’ve just thought of dried and fresh fruit, onions, pomegranate seeds, preserved vegetables, noodles, nori ….
You get the idea. So what’s your best stand-alone salad? We’d love to hear about it.
(For the Sydney-based and time-poor, we’ll be making salads all winter and this one is on the menu this week www.dinnerladies.com.au/menu) .
KALE, SPELT, ROAST BEETROOT AND FETA SALAD
Serves 2 as a hearty main course or 4 or more as a side salad
Make ahead – all elements can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for up to three days. For best results keep the pepitas and dressing separate from the other ingredients until the time of serving – but it would be fine pre-dressed as well: the beetroot will bleed a bit and the pepitas may soften but it will still be delicious.
100g dried spelt
Half a bunch of kale, spines removed and leaves torn
100g feta, diced
100g roast beetroot, diced (the ready-roast packets are okay but need seasoning)
Half a bunch of dill, fronds only
50g pepitas, toasted
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce/tamari
1.5 teaspoons maple syrup
1-2 tablespoons olive or other oil
Cover spelt with three times its volume of cold water, bring to the boil then turn down to your lowest heat and simmer, covered, until cooked, checking the water level every so often. This will probably take 30-45 minutes. If any water is left, drain and allow to cool.
Mix the cooled spelt with the kale, feta, beetroot, dill and most of the pepitas.
In a jug or small bowl, whisk together the tahini, vinegar, soy, maple syrup and olive oil. Adjust till you have a consistency and taste that you’re happy with.
Toss the dressing gently through the salad, sprinkle with the reserved pepitas and serve.