Cooler weather sometimes improves winter greens |
Food & Drink

Cooler weather sometimes improves winter greens

We take salads for granted, as cooks and as eaters.

We undervalue them for their potential for sustenance and satiation, but also for the care they require in the making, a trend, no doubt, encouraged by our dependence on bottled dressings and pre-prepped greens.

We can do better. So, with fall’s dropping temperatures, I’m adding ever more salads to the menu, wielding the season’s frost-sweetened, intensely flavored greens — collards, cabbage, mustards, chicories and, yes, kale — to restore some glamour, and, perhaps, some respect, to the salad course.

Many cooks would judge me a season off, salads being what we run to when the heat chases us toward something lighter. But warm-weather leaves, when you can find them, are often aggravated versions of themselves. Their bitter, pungent or spicy undertones can be aggressive, their texture brash. The cold is what brings their flavors into alignment.

Bitter chicories take on a mellow, buttery glow; collards turn bright-tasting and sweet, their stems juicy enough to eat raw; mustards, tasting of hazelnuts and wasabi, are irresistible.

Numerous cookbook authors have devoted chapters to the art and methodology of making salad well: Paul Bertolli in “Chez Panisse Cooking,” Judy Rodgers in the “Zuni Cafe Cookbook,” for instance. If you are a disciple of deliberate saladmaking, you know that the subject is worth the meditation.

Making a salad, their philosophy goes, should be a thoughtful and measured process, as much about preparing its components as about assembling them. Although you could apply that rhetoric to other types of cooking, it is critically important with salad, because rarely is there a next step in which to coax out flavors or veil flaws.

So much of making salad is in the preparation that it seems wise to learn to enjoy it. Rodgers puts it this way: “I love the feeling of scooping up the leaves and sliding them between my fingers, coating each surface with dressing.”

Even if you don’t find anything meditative in that, your care will come through on the plate. It will be more than enough.

Emily Horton is a contributing writer for The Washington Post.

Cabbage Salad With Winter Roots and Popped Mustard Seed

Turn this salad into a vegetarian main dish by folding 14 cup of red quinoa, cooked and cooled, into the finished salad and scattering cubed, extra-firm tofu around each plate.

The salad can be made 30 minutes before serving.

1 medium head savoy cabbage or Napa cabbage

2 medium carrots, scrubbed well

3 medium watermelon radishes or other winter radishes, such as the Hilds Blauer or China Rose varieties

1 small red onion

3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon brown mustard seed

2 small dried arbol chile peppers, torn into 2 or 3 pieces (reduce to 1 or omit for less heat)

34 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

12 cup flatleaf parsley leaves (from about 10 sprigs)

Cut the cabbage in half through the stem end, then cut each half through the stem end to yield four quarters. Slice off the core and discard, then cut each quarter crosswise into thin ribbons. You should have about 9 loosely packed cups. Transfer the cabbage to a bowl.

Cut the carrots into matchstick-size strips (julienne), and halve and thinly slice the radishes; transfer those ingredients to the bowl of cabbage.

Cut the onion in half crosswise, then slice it thinly lengthwise. Add the onion to the bowl.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the mustard seed and arbol chile pieces. Cover and cook for about 4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the seeds begin to pop. Remove the skillet from the heat; let it cool for 5 minutes (covered).

Dissolve the salt in the lemon juice in a small bowl, then pour it over the cabbage, along with the oil and mustard seed. Use your hands to toss the cabbage and vegetables with the dressing until they are well coated and slightly wilted. Taste for salt, and season lightly with the black pepper.

Fold in the parsley, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 170 calories, 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 0 cholesterol, 4 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams dietary fiber, 470 milligrams sodium

Mustard Greens, Kohlrabi and Carrots with Ginger Dressing

Boiled cider is the key to this salad’s dressing, lending a sweet-tart complexity. Find it in specialty food stores or online, or make it by reducing fresh cider on the stove to about one-seventh of its original volume. Maple syrup is an acceptable substitute, but the resulting dressing will be lighter-bodied and milder in flavor.

The salad dressing can be made and refrigerated a day in advance. Bring it to room temperature and shake it to re-emulsify before using.

8 cups lightly packed mustard greens (from about 2 small bunches or 1 large; about 12 ounces)

1 large carrot, scrubbed well

1 bulb green kohlrabi

2 teaspoons white sesame seeds (unhulled, if possible)

One 34-ounce piece young gingerroot

1 clove garlic

18 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus 14 teaspoon

1 12 teaspoons apple-cider vinegar

1 tablespoon boiled cider (may substitute pomegranate molasses)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Tear the mustard greens into large, bite-size pieces; rinse them in a bowl of cool water, then spin dry. Transfer them to a large bowl.

Trim the carrot. Trim and peel the kohlrabi; cut each into matchstick-size strips (julienne) and add them to the mustard greens.

Toast the sesame seeds in a small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until the seeds are lightly browned; this should take about 5 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a small plate to cool.

Cut the gingerroot and garlic into small pieces. Use a mortar and pestle to pound the garlic and gingerroot with 18 teaspoon of salt to form a pastelike mixture. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Alternately, smash the garlic and gingerroot with the flat side of a knife, then mince. Add the vinegar, the boiled cider and the remaining 14 teaspoon of salt to the bowl, then gradually whisk in the oil to form an emulsified dressing. Pour it over the greens; use your hands to gently toss the salad. Taste, and add salt and/or black pepper as needed.

Divide the greens evenly among individual plates; garnish with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve right away.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 170 calories, 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 0 cholesterol, 5 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams dietary fiber, 250 milligrams sodium

Collard Green, Potato and Chickpea Salad With Spiced Lemon Dressing

If your collards are not particularly tender, blanch or steam them first, just until tender, then drain them thoroughly before tossing with the dressing.

Make ahead: The cooked potatoes and chickpeas can be dressed and refrigerated 2 days in advance; bring them to room temperature before serving. The spices can be toasted and ground 3 days in advance and held in an airtight container at room temperature.


Kosher salt, to taste

1 pound fingerling potatoes, scrubbed well

1 bunch collard greens (about 1 pound)

5 pitted, oil-cured black olives, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seed

12 teaspoon caraway seeds

14 to 12 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice

12 teaspoon, plus 14 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup cooked or canned, no-salt-added chickpeas

13 cup packed cilantro leaves, for garnish

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch of the kosher salt, then add the potatoes. Reduce the heat to medium; cook uncovered just until the potatoes can be easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, for about 15 minutes. Drain and cool them.

Cut the ribs from the collards by slicing along both sides of the stalk from the top of the leaf to the stem end; discard or reserve the ribs for another use. Stack the halved leaves and cut them into thin ribbons. Rinse the greens in a bowl of cool water, spin them dry and transfer them to a medium bowl. Add the chopped olives.

Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cumin and caraway seeds; cook for about 3 minutes, until they are lightly toasted and fragrant. Let the seeds cool for 5 minutes, then grind them to a coarse powder using a mortar and pestle. Transfer the seeds to a small bowl, and add the crushed red pepper, to taste.

Use the same mortar and pestle to reduce the garlic to a paste. Add the lemon juice and the 12 teaspoon of sea salt; mix until the salt has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to a bowl; slowly whisk in the oil to form an emulsified dressing.

When the potatoes are cool, cut them into bite-size chunks. Add them to the bowl, along with the drained chickpeas.

Add 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of the dressing to the bowl of collards and olives; use your hands to toss gently until well incorporated. Pour the remaining dressing over the potatoes and chickpeas, along with the remaining 14 teaspoon of sea salt. Use a spatula to fold it in until well coated.

To serve, scatter the potatoes and chickpeas over the bottom of each plate. Mound the collard-olive mixture on the top, and garnish with cilantro leaves. Season lightly with the black pepper. Serve right away.

Makes 2 to 4 servings (4 appetizer or side-dish servings or 2 main-course servings).

Nutrition information per serving (based on 4): 240 calories, 8 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 0 cholesterol, 10 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams dietary fiber, 520 milligrams sodium

Chicory With Grapefruit, Avocado and Pepitas

Catalogna chicory, sometimes sold as Italian dandelion, is also the variety cultivated for its heart and inner shoots and sold as puntarelle. In cooler months, its deep-green leaves are sweet and crunchy and only moderately bitter.

The dressing can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. Bring the dressing to room temperature and shake to re-emulsify it before serving.

1 bunch Catalogna chicory or Italian dandelion greens (may substitute regular dandelion greens, escarole, curly endive or sugarloaf chicory; see headnote)


1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely minced yellow onion (may substitute shallot)

34 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar

14 cup extra-virgin olive oil

14 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons raw, hulled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

2 small Ruby Red grapefruit, supremed (see note)

Flesh from 1 large or 2 small ripe, yet firm, avocados, cut into long, quartered slices or bite-size pieces

Trim off and discard the stem ends of the chicory. Chop the leaves into 2-inch pieces. You should have about 8 cups, lightly packed. Rinse the leaves in a bowl of cool water and spin them dry, then transfer them to a mixing bowl.

Combine the onion, salt and vinegar in a small bowl, stirring to incorporate. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then whisk in the oil to form an emulsified dressing. Season with the 14 teaspoon of pepper.

Toast the pepitas by warming them in a skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until they are fragrant and just lightly browned. Cool them completely.

Toss the chicory with all but 2 teaspoons of the dressing, gently using your hands to combine. Mound the chicory onto individual plates, and nestle the grapefruit sections and avocado among the greens.

Drizzle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of dressing. Sprinkle the toasted pepitas over the top; season with more black pepper, if desired.

Note: To segment the grapefruit into supremes, slice off the bottom and the top. Stand the fruit on a cutting board with one of the cut sides down. Use a serrated knife to cut the peel and the pith away from the fruit, top to bottom. Then, holding the fruit in your hand, cut the segments away from the membrane. (The idea is to leave behind all of the membrane and white pith.)

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 280 calories, 23 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 0 cholesterol, 5 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams dietary fiber, 430 milligrams sodium

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