Salad: not just lettuce any more.
Andreae Prozesky is in her winter salad days.
When the festivities have wound down and the last of the truffles has been eaten, when the cherry cake has all but vanished and you realize that the only non-alcoholic beverage you’ve consumed all week has been gravy, it’s time to take a step back, drink four glasses of water or so, and have a nice, wholesome salad.
As difficult as it is to admit at times, a body needs vegetables to keep itself ticking along. Fruit is pretty important, too, and no, carrot cake and candied cherries don’t count.
That’s all fine and good in the summer and fall when market stalls and roadside stands are brimming with fresh greens, but what to do right now, in the frozen season? It’s so… blah. Limp, sad lettuce slowly drowning in the mist of the produce-section spray hoses, slimy of leaf and brown of stem. Plastic bins of salad greens can be okay, but they have their flaws. The small ones are expensive, and the large ones are just too much for a single person (or even a small family) to tackle. The spinach turns to sludge within days, rendering the rest of the leaves virtually useless.
Who among us has not tried to pick all the slimy spinach bits from a bin of otherwise okay salad greens, only to toss the whole thing away in disgust after ten grueling minutes and no great progress?
In my mind, salads divide themselves into two camps: winter and summer. Winter salads are sturdy and nutrient-rich, and perfect for helping you steel yourself against the icy wind; summer salads are fluttery and light, lovely for lunch on scorching days when it the very thought of hot food makes a person tired. While summer salads serve as refreshing tonics, winter salads will have you filled up and fortified. Summer salads take no time to make and must be eaten immediately, before they go flat and floppy. Winter salads take longer to put together, but they last longer, too, and many can be packed for lunch and picked at for snacks over the course of a number of days.
In summer, salads are composed primarily of greens, but in winter I prefer to make them with rice, lentils, or some other grainy, starchy foodstuff. It’s cold out there, after all. I also like to throw in fruit, probably because I seem to need sweet food more in the winter than I do in the summer (perhaps it’s to help ease me off the Christmas sugar high). Apples are good right now, pomegranates are enjoying their season, and citrus fruits are plentiful. Dried fruit like raisins, currants, and dates are salad staples for me. I also throw nuts and seeds in just about anywhere I can. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds add life to a potentially drab salad, while almonds, pecans, and walnuts do wonders for texture (and add piles of nutrients).
If you want some greenery in your salad, but don’t want to buy the plastic bin stuff, you can do one of two things. With a few days of forethought you can grow some of your own sprouts, which is fun, cheap, and educational (search on thescope.ca for some advice.) Or you can find someone else to do it for you. Bloom’n Shoots sells (and delivers) bags of organic micro mix, which is kind of like sprouts, only the shoots are a little bigger and the roots aren’t attached. The bags of mix include shoots of, in alphabetical order, arugula, beets, broccoli, buckwheat, cabbage, chard, cress, herbs, kale, mustards, oracle, pea, radish, and sunflower. If you’re in town, you can contact Bloom’n Shootsperson Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a little micro mix distro. Bloom’n Shoots also sells pea shoot growing kits; pea shoots are incredibly tasty and would rock the heck out of any salad.
For salad dressing, I usually make a simple vinaigrette. And I mean real simple: I take a jam jar, pour in a half-inch of balsamic or red wine vinegar, pour an inch of oil on top, add salt and pepper, screw on the jar lid, and shake. In ambitious moments, I’ve been known to add some combination of the following: crushed garlic, honey, Dijon mustard, fresh herbs, maple syrup, orange or lemon or lime juice, curry paste, and ginger. But I always stick to the one-part-vinegar-two-parts-oil formula. I usually use straight olive oil, but for lighter-flavoured salads I sometimes substitute part canola or grapeseed oil. Olive oil has a certain gravity to it that is not always appropriate. Even in St. John’s in winter.
I’ve never once measured what I’ve put into a salad. And I don’t think I’ve made exactly the same salad twice. I’ve tried, but it’s just never happened.
Brown rice and quinoa salad
In one pot, cook one cup brown rice according to package directions. In another pot, cook one cup of quinoa according to its package. When cooked, combine the two grains. When cool, add diced orange (or one tin of mandarin orange sections), chopped dates, a handful each of raw cashews and raw pumpkin seeds, diced red pepper, diced red onion, snipped green onion, salt and pepper. Add red wine vinaigrette to coat.
Lentil walnut salad
Cook one cup French lentils (“Dupuys” lentils) according to package directions. Cool and add one diced apple, a handful of currants, and a handful of chopped walnuts. Make a balsamic vinaigrette and add a couple tablespoons of pomegranate molasses. Garnish with pomegranate seeds if you can get your hands on some.
Leafy winter salad
Buy some of the plastic bin greens labeled “fresh herb mix” (both the big grocery store chains carry them). Grab a big bowlful and top with diced tart apple, diced white cheddar, toasted pecan halves, and balsamic vinaigrette.
Composed grapefruit salad
Slice an avocado into a bowl. Add the segments, membranes removed, of one red grapefruit. Top with sprouts or micro mix, and squeeze the juice from the remaining grapefruit over top. Drizzle with olive oil and flavour with salt and pepper. If you can afford blood oranges, they are a great addition to—or substitute for—the grapefruit.
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