Green is my favorite color, especially when it comes to eating. I love eating leaves of all kinds and mixing surprises into a salad. This is a recipe I gave to a friend, the artist Martha Kelly, to use while she was here taking care of my garden in the fall: Walk through the garden with a basket and pick leaves that look good to you. Mix them together in a bowl and toss with some extra virgin olive oil to coat all the leaves. Sprinkle on a little kosher salt and a few splashes of delicious vinegar. Toss again, and go eat it. It works beautifully.
I like to eat fresh salads every day, so I try to keep a supply of greens alive in my garden through the winter with the help of row covers and little tents. I have lots of different types of chicory (thanks to the seed pack of mixed chicory I planted and allowed to self-seed all over the garden). The young leaves of most chicory varieties are tender enough to include in salads, but my favorite for eating raw is called “Sugar Hat”. This variety makes a large Romaine-type head that is self-blanching and only mildly bitter. I also have endive and escarole most of the winter, as well as several kinds of mild-flavored Asian greens in the mustard family. Chinese cabbage and bok choi are very hearty and sometimes make it through the winter, and I can always count on “Tango” lettuce and arugula…and spinach, if I am lucky. Parsley, chervil, sorrel, mint, cutting celery, chickweed, beet greens, and other bits of green make their way into winter salads, too.
For me, salad has to be green. When the garden lettuce is tender and sweet, I like to make salad of leaves alone. But hearty winter greens tend to be more intensely flavored, and ask to be combined with some milder, sweeter ingredients to make the salad a happy experience. Here are a few ideas:
Endive, Avocado, and Grapefruit
Make vinaigrette: With a mortar and pestle, make a paste of 1 garlic clove and 1/4 tsp. kosher salt. Add 1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, 1 or 2 tsp. white wine vinegar, 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves, the zest from the lemon, and a little freshly ground black pepper. Whisk in 5 to 6 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Make the salad: Chop enough frisee or tender inner leaves of escarole or endive to fill a salad bowl (4 to 5 cups). Toss with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens. Taste and add salt if needed. Arrange slices of avocado and grapefruit segments (remove membranes) on top of the greens. Drizzle on more of the dressing and garnish with thinly sliced shallot or red onion and chopped fresh mint or cilantro leaves.
Beet Salad with Red Onion and Arugula
Make the walnut vinaigrette: Make a paste with 1 garlic clove and 1/4 tsp. kosher salt. Add 1 Tbs. sherry or cider vinegar, 1 to 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk in1Tbs. walnut oil and 4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Prep the onion: Slice a red onion very thinly and soak in cold water 1/2 hour. Drain.
Prepare the beets: Wash and trim 1 lb. beets, leaving the root tail and an inch of stem. Boil whole in salted water or roast them (put them in a baking pan with 1/4 inch water, cover, and bake in a pre-heated 400 degree F oven) until tender–25 to 45 minutes, depending on size. Do not overcook. When cool, peel and slice them into wedges. Sprinkle the beets with a little fresh lemon juice or vinegar and a little salt. Toss with 2 Tbs. of the vinaigrette.
Toast and chop about 1/4 cup walnuts.
Assemble the salad: Toss about 4 cups of young arugula leaves (or substitute a spicy mesclun) with enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat the leaves. On a wide, shallow platter, make a bed of the greens, top them with the beets and onion slices, and drizzle on more of the dressing. Sprinkle with a couple Tbs. chopped fresh parsley or chervil, the toasted walnuts, and crumbled goat or feta cheese.
Mixed Greens with Roasted Winter Squash and Gorgonzola
This was a happy accident. I made a salad of mixed lettuce and chicory greens (radicchio and baby spinach would be lovely additions), topped with crumbled Gorgonzola. I had some chunks of roasted winter squash left from the night before, so I tossed them in with the salad. A great flavor combination! The sweetness of the winter squash was perfect with the bitter greens and sharp cheese.
Roasting winter squash: Peel and cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds, and cut the halves into 3/4-inch slices. Cut these into cubes. Toss the squash with a couple Tbs. olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Spread the cubes out on a baking sheet and roast 25 to 30 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees F. Check after 15-20 minutes and stir gently so that the cubes brown evenly. They will be crusty brown on the outside and tender inside when done. I grow a Kabocha type winter squash called “Sunshine” that is dry-fleshed and flavorful. It roasts better than butternut for this use.
Escarole with Fennel and Black Olives
We had thinly sliced raw fennel on top of mixed greens for many of our salads in Italy. Sweet, crunchy fennel goes very well with the slight bitterness of escarole and other members of the chicory family. Oil-cured black olives, Kalamata, or Nicoise…take your pick.
Make vinaigrette: Make a paste with 1 garlic clove and 1/4 tsp salt. Add 1/4 tsp. crushed fennel seed and 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard. Stir in 1 1/2 Tbs.sherry or cider vinegar and 1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar. Grind in some black pepper and whisk in 5 to 6 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil.
Prep the fennel: Trim the fennel bulb and slice it as thinly as possible to make about 1 cup.
Prep the escarole: Trim off the outer leaves and dark green tips. Use only the light green part and white ribs. Chop into bite-size pieces to make about 4-5 cups.
Mix the escarole with 2 cups baby spinach or other mixed greens. Toss with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens. Add the fennel and drizzle with a little more dressing. Top with about 1/3 cup coarsely chopped olives.
Asian Slaw with Sesame-Ginger Vinaigrette
I grow lots of mild-flavored Asian greens (various permutations of Brassica rapa), as well as Napa cabbage and a tender, open-headed cabbage called” Fun Jen”. I mix all their varying degrees of crunch and spice and shades of green into this salad.
Make the vinaigrette: In a small pan, heat 4 Tbs peanut, canola, or grapeseed oil and 2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil with 1tsp. red chile flakes, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh ginger, and 1 Tbs. chopped garlic until small bubbles rise around the spices. Cook 1 minute over very low heat, remove from the heat and infuse 1 hour. Strain the oil and whisk together with 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice, 2 Tbs. rice vinegar, 1 tsp. sugar, and 1/4 cup soy sauce. Taste and adjust the flavors–more vinegar? More salt? More sugar? More chile?
Make the salad: Mix together a total of 6 to 8 cups finely sliced Chinese cabbage, mesclun, finely chopped mustard greens, arugula, or other spicy greens. Toss he greens with enough of the vinaigrette to coat the leaves well. Add extra ingredients like shredded carrot, chopped cilantro, bean sprouts, sliced scallions, and chopped mint. Avocado?
This salad mixes very well with soba or rice noodles, or as a bed for tofu or fish. Drizzle on more dressing as desired and top with chopped roasted peanuts.