How to Make Better, Brighter, Bolder Winter Salads

A fresh, colorful salad is just what you need to dispel these late-winter 'Why isn’t it spring yet?' blues

Cookbook author Adeena Sussman's sumac grilled chicken, citrus, and avocado salad, from 'Sababa,' is the perfect sunny winter salad. (Dan Perez)
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Salads aren’t just for summertime. Winter calls for rich, warming comfort foods, yes, but among a parade of thick stews and meaty braises in a hundred shades of brown and beige, a fresh, colorful salad is a welcome change of pace—and just what you need to dispel these late-winter “Why isn’t it spring yet?” blues.

Winter produce is often overshadowed by its flashy summer counterparts, but there’s still an abundant bounty to draw from: juicy, tangy citrus; crisp, bitter greens; and sweet, earthy root vegetables. They make for hearty salads, at once refreshing and comforting, where bright, bold flavors shine.

Here, chefs and cookbook authors share their best tips, tricks, and recipes to guide your seasonal salad-making endeavors.

Spotlight Sunny Citrus

Citrus fruits are at their sweetest and juiciest this time of year, as vibrant in color as in flavor. Stock up on a variety—bright orange clementines, crimson-streaked blood oranges, blush-pink Cara Caras, ruby red grapefruits—to add sunshine to any salad.

Adeena Sussman offers a stunning example in her new cookbook, “Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen,” a love letter to the food and local markets of her adoptive home country. In winter, that love manifests as a salad starring citrus fruits two ways: cut into rounds, to layer with creamy avocado, crisp lettuce, grilled chicken, and sweet-tart pops of pomegranate (another in-season gem); and freshly juiced and married with tangy sumac, to build both the marinade for the chicken and the dressing to drizzle over everything.

RECIPE: Sumac Grilled Chicken, Citrus, and Avocado Salad

For a dressing with an even brighter citrusy punch, Attila Bollok, executive chef of Barton G. The Restaurant Los Angeles, suggests reducing freshly squeezed orange juice on the stovetop until concentrated and syrupy. He combines the reduction with smashed garlic and anchovies, crushed pistachios, a splash of lemon juice, and olive oil, and uses it to dress endives, fresh citrus, and shaved radishes. A whisper of orange zest on top brings the salad full circle.

RECIPE: Sun-Kissed Citrus Winter Salad

Chef Attila Bollok’s citrus-powered winter salad. (Joe Kohen)

Shake Up Your Salad Mix

Winter is also peak season for hearty, bitter greens.

“I’ll bypass the usual salad greens like iceberg, romaine, or Bibb [lettuce], and look for greens with a hearty texture and punchy flavor,” says Bridget Lancaster, host of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country TV shows. She highlights shredded Brussels sprouts as a favorite base, along with bitter chicories such as escarole, endive, and radicchio.

“I also like to add crisp or crunchy vegetables to the mix; shredded cabbage or thinly sliced fennel is a great way to wake up a salad,” she says.

RECIPE: Brussels Sprout Salad With Warm Browned Butter Vinaigrette

Shaved Brussels sprouts are a hearty, crunchy salad base. (Courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)

Embrace Bold, Bright Flavors 

Keep in mind, though, that “heartier greens need heartier and bolder ingredients to stand out,” says Ryan McQuillan, executive chef of Plough in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Bitter greens play especially well with pungent, salty flavors (think anchovies, garlic, olives) and extra acidity (try capers, or plenty of lemon or lime).

McQuillan points to Plough’s wintery take on a Caesar salad, in which local seasonal greens are the base ingredient for an umami-packed supporting cast: briny boquerones (marinated white anchovies); bright and funky preserved lemon; herbed sourdough breadcrumbs; and salty shavings of pecorino and cured egg yolks. For the finishing touch, McQuillan adds “an extra squeeze of lemon on top, right before the salad leaves the kitchen.”

Turn Up the Heat

Who said salads had to be all cold and raw? Try roasting starchy vegetables in the oven for a warm salad option: “This is prime root vegetable season, and I like to roast big pieces of turnip or whole parsnips,” Lancaster says. “The heat of the oven caramelizes the exterior of the vegetables, and enhances their sweet flavor.”

Other earthy-sweet roots, like carrots or beets; hearty brassicas, like Brussels sprouts or cauliflower; and any variety of winter squash are all fair game. If you choose a medley to roast together, “the trick … is to cut them into similar sized pieces so they cook evenly,” advises Linh Aven, executive chef of fast-casual restaurant chain B.GOOD.

Vibrant orange cauliflower takes well to oven-roasting. (Lauren Volo)

For “extra credit,” Aven likes to also toss in a whole head of garlic, drizzled with oil and wrapped in foil, to roast alongside the rest of the veggies. After roasting, “the garlic flavor will be mellow and sweet and the cloves will be soft like a paste. Squeeze the garlic out and blend into your favorite vinaigrette.”

RECIPE: Arugula and Roasted Veggie Salad With Lemon-Chia Dressing

RECIPE: Golden Beet Carpaccio

Or, forgo the oven-roasting and consider a warm dressing—think of the hot bacon vinaigrette in a warm spinach salad. In “Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking,” author and culinary historian Toni Tipton-Martin makes a version of this beloved classic inspired by recipes for “wilted” or “killer” lettuce or spinach dishes found throughout early 20th-century African American cookbooks.

“Back in the day, farm folks tossed combinations of bitter greens and herbs, such as escarole, chicory, purslane, and watercress, with a warm dressing they stirred together right in a hot skillet after cooking bacon. In harder times, wild weeds like dandelion and poke, as in ‘poke sallet,’ answered the call,” she writes.

Returning to that tradition, Tipton-Martin’s recipe uses a mix of nutritious “power greens”—arugula, chard, baby kale, and watercress, in addition to spinach—coated in a luxurious hot dressing of rendered bacon fat and vinegar.

RECIPE: Wilted Mixed Greens With Bacon

(Jerrelle Guy)
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