a formula for warm fall salads

photo (1)We love fall salads in our house. Salads are often considered a decidedly summer meal — crunchy, cold and refreshing. But it’s into the fall and winter months that I turn to salads as something plant-based and fortifying to fuel me through the cold and sunless days. The fall brings a time to play with colour, texture and the variety of hearty vegetables that become available with the cold-weather crops.

Assembling a warm salad of roasted romanesco and carrots with sauteed chard (pictured above) the other evening, I realized that we often use a simple formula for our cold-weather salads that can be replicated with any number of fall vegetables. Here’s my formula to make a wonderful warm salad for two.

Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees F and lining two large (13x9″) baking trays with parchment paper. 

Then gather your components:

1. A Wilted Green

For this salad, we used rainbow chard, but any hardy winter green will do — kale (lacinato, purple or curly), spinach, radicchio, mustard greens, rapini, collards or endive all work exceptionally well. I love something with a slightly bitter edge to contrast the sweetness of the other vegetables.

Wash a large bunch – don’t bother to spin dry as the residual water will help to steam the greens. Saute over medium heat with a good glug of olive oil, a large clove of thinly-sliced garlic, salt and pepper until the greens are supple. For greens with hardy stems, such as chard, de-stem and cook stems for a bit more time than the leaves.

This component will form the base of your salad.

2. A Roasted Crucifer

For this salad, we used a head of romanesco cauliflower, but any crucifer will do — broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or cabbage are solid choices.

Wash your crucifer(s) and dry well — drying is important to ensure you roast and don’t steam the vegetable in the oven. Break into tiny florets or pieces and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper until shiny. Turn out evenly onto a prepared baking tray and pop into a preheated oven, roasting until very tender and golden.

This component will add a savoury note and depth to your salad.

3. A Spiced Starchy Root

For this salad, we used carrots equaling about two cups uncooked, but any sweet/starchy root vegetable will do — parsnip, beet, sweet potato, celeriac, squash (butternut, delicata, kabocha or sugar pumpkin), turnip, rutabaga, kohlrabi or radishes.

Wash the root (and peel, if required). Cube or slice into about one-inch pieces and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper until shiny. I also add a dried spice to the root vegetables. You don’t want to aggressively spice every component of a warm salad or the flavours will muddle, but root vegetables accept and temper spices so well that I often incorporate spices at this stage. 

For this salad, I added 1 tsp of ground cumin to the oil-tossed carrots before baking. Other warming spices (e.g., cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg) or savoury spices (e.g., rosemary, thyme, sage, sumac) work well depending on the flavour profile you want to build. For every two cups of raw prepared vegetables, use about 1 tsp of dried spice.

Arrange in a single layer on your second prepared baking tray and pop into preheated oven, roasting until tender and golden. You will probably need to flip the vegetables once during roasting to ensure even cooking.

How to tell if your roasted root vegetables are ready? The best advice I’ve heard seems so obvious, but it ensures perfect roasting every time. Taste one! If the morsel isn’t creamy and practically melting on your tongue, it needs more time in the oven.

This component will add sweetness and a caramelized note to your salad. 

4. A Dressing

Dressing pulls a salad together into something harmonious — but for a cooked salad, dressing is not meant to coat the vegetables as with a raw salad. Since the vegetables have already been dressed in oil (and overdressed salad is the worst!), the dressing functions as another layer of flavour.

For this salad, I made a simple tahini-lemon-garlic-parsley dressing to drizzle over the salad. This dressing works for so many vegetable combinations and is stellar with Middle Eastern spices like cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon. I also love a bagna cauda style dressing of whizzed oil-packed anchovy, garlic and red wine vinegar to douse over veggies. You’ll want about 1/4 cup dressing to enhance this amount of vegetables.

This component adds another layer of flavour to your salad and ties the components together.

5. Optional Toppings

We kept this salad naked, but optional toppings can add a final element of creaminess or crunch. Keep in mind how sweet/savoury and textural your salad is without these items, and adjust accordingly. Choose one from a family below and use about 1/4 cup:

Nuts and seeds: pistachios, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, roasted chickpeas

Creamy element: goat cheese, blue cheese, feta, avocado, poached egg

Dried fruit: sliced apricot, dried cherries, cranberries, raisins

For this salad, the interplay of chard (savoury, silky), romanesco (crunchy), cumin carrots (sweet, deep) and tahini dressing (creamy, tangy) hit all the flavour and textural notes we wanted. But some chopped hazelnuts over top would have been lovely!

This component addresses any flavour and textural shortcomings in your salad.

The Formula

fall salad = wilted green + roasted crucifer + spiced root + dressing + optional topper

It’s that easy — because of the character of these vegetable families, pretty much any combination goes for a satiating and wholesome cold-weather salad.

Other Favourite Fall Salads

Roasted chickpea and carrots in harissa-lime dressing

Endive with pear, arugula and goat cheese

Winter chopped salad (my favourite!)

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