“Lauren, don’t wish your life away! You’ll regret it when you’re older …” I’ve heard these words time and time again in my life, as I have always been painfully, regretfully guilty of doing just that: wishing the time away. It’s my worst habit, no question. I seem to naturally look forward to whatever’s coming next … craning my neck to get a peek of what lies just around the bend of life …
“Stop waiting for Friday,” they say. “For Summer. For someone to fall in love with you. For life.”
This is the time of year that tends to draw out the pessimist in me – in many of us – and year after year, I always find myself wishing away the winter season entirely … in one fell swoop, as if it is such a horrible thing. I referenced my disdain for the colder, darker months of the year a few posts back and I’ve been working to make good on my pre-new year’s resolution to embrace the season with a hopeful, much more grateful heart. Now that I have two children who I can literally see changing and growing before my eyes each day, the concept and construct of time and its passing have changed dramatically for me. It freaks me out. Where I used to spend time daydreaming about the future, I now want to stop the clock. While I used to countdown days on the calendar until my next birthday – when I would be older, more grown-up seeming – I now would gladly trade a few of my birthdays for extra days to sneak in over the course of a year, to make time drift by just a little slower …
We’ve spent the past three weeks traveling, our time divided between family in Kentucky and Virginia – two of my favorite places on this planet Earth. It has been the type of vacation where the lines between days blur a bit and you’re not ever totally sure what the number on the calendar says at any given time. Wonderful, it is. Our daily routines of home and the inevitable monotony that results from them are abandoned while we’re away, changing the way we designate the hours and minutes of each day, how we approach them. It’s refreshing to loosen the slack on time a bit, and just be. To really sink your feet down in a moment and enjoy it for what it is, not what is coming next or what you have to do next or where you have to be is something of an art form, a learned skill that I am working to master … If not master, then to at least pass with a satisfactory grade.
“True happiness is achieved when you stop waiting for it and make the most of the moment you are in now.”
Marinated. Roasted. Tossed. Chilled. In this post I’m bringing you four different takes on the winter salad, each one decidedly different than the next but all highly satisfying in their own way. Bright and fresh and packed with flavors, all of these salads put seasonal produce to use in a very front-and-center “Hey! look at me!” kind of way … which is sort of the calling card for a good salad, I think. What with all of the heavy, rich braises and weighty, starch-filled, cold-weather food going on this time of year, a winter table so often begs for a burst of freshness, and these salads are just the ticket.
Winter Fruit Salad
Let us not forsake the humble fruit salad during the cold, winter months, okay? This is, contrary to popular belief, a wonderful time of year to enjoy fresh, vibrant fruits … you just have to pick the right ones. In this case, I’m highlighting citrus, pears and pomegranates but you can swap in other fruits that strike your fancy, are on sale, or that just look really good in the store that day.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1, 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
The seeds from one vanilla bean, split lengthwise (seeds can be scraped out using the blunt side of your knife)
2 large grapefruit
3 naval oranges
2 fresh, ripe pears (any variety you like), peeled (if you want) and sliced into wedges or
1 cup pomegranate seeds (from one pomegranate)
Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish
Additional suggestions: blood oranges, kumquats, mangoes, kiwis, bananas
Combine the sugar, 2 cups of water, the ginger, and the vanilla bean seeds along with the pod in a medium saucepan. Use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of peel from the lemon, 1 grapefruit and 1 orange, and add these strips to the saucepan. Bring this mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. Refrigerate until cold.
Meanwhile, peel the remaining grapefruit and oranges with a pairing knife, cutting along the natural curve of the fruits. Hold your citrus over a large bowl and slice in between the visible membrane segments, allowing the fruit to fall into the bowl and leaving the membranes behind. Squeeze the juice out of the membranes into the bowl after you’ve cut out all of the fruit – waste not, want not!
Add the pom seeds to the citrus in the bowl and pour the chilled syrup over the fruit and gently toss. Chill for at least two hours before serving.
Before serving, remove the citrus zest, ginger and the vanilla bean pod. Add the sliced pears (if you add them too soon they will begin to discolor so I like to add them right before serving). Serve the salad family-style from a large platter or serve the salad and its syrup in individual bowls. Garnish with mint, if desired.
Thai-Style Marinated Pomelo Salad with Peanuts and Toasted Coconut
Sweet. Savory. Salty. A little spicy. This bright and beautiful salad has flavor in spades and offers a decidedly different take on the more traditional citrus salad. This one is extra special and totally irresistible.
*adapted from Bon Appetit’
INGREDIENTS (makes about 4 servings)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 red or green Thai chiles (or you can use serrano or jalapeno, if you can’t find)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup vegetable, grapeseed or canola oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced (divided)
1/4 cup peanuts
2 pomelos or 3 ruby red grapefruit
3/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Whisk the sugar and 1 tablespoon of water together in a medium bowl until the sugar has fully dissolved. Next, whisk in the chiles, garlic, lime juice, and the fish sauce. Season to taste with salt. If you need to add a bit more sugar, lime, or fish sauce to balance the flavors, then go right ahead. You can tweak things here as you go.
Toast the coconut in a small, dry pan over medium heat, stirring it occasionally until it is golden brown. This should take about 3 – 4 minutes. Transfer it to a small bowl.
In the same small pan, heat the oil. Add half of the shallots and fry, stirring until they’re golden brown and slightly crisp, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool – making sure to leave the oil in the pan. Season lightly with salt.
Cook the peanuts in the shallot oil until they’re golden brown, about two minutes. Transfer them to paper towels to drain as well. Season lightly with salt.
Remove the peel and the white pith from the pomelos. Tear the membrane off and pull the segments apart, or slice them out with a small knife. Place the pomelo slices in a large bowl. Add the chopped cilantro to the bowl, the remaining (uncooked) shallots, and half of the dressing. Toss to coat. Next, add the coconut and peanuts and toss again.
Divide the salad among plates, if desired, or you can pour it out onto a large platter. Drizzle with the remaining dressing. Top with the crispy shallots and enjoy.
Balsamic Roasted Grapes and Brussels Sprouts with Salty Pumpkin Seeds
This recipe has been on repeat in my house for months now. I have a serious love affair with sweet and savory flavors (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned time and again here) and this recipe is such a great way to play up that flavor combo. The sweetness of the grapes offsets the earthy, funkiness of the Brussels sprouts and are honestly great just like that – nothing much more is needed here. But, by drizzling a generous glug of syrupy, reduced balsamic vinegar (which is made from grapes, so is a natural fit in this case) and tossing on a handful of salty, crunchy pepitas, you get a unique and utterly delicious roasted fruti and vegetable salad that might just make an addict out of you, if you’re not careful.
1.5 cups balsamic vinegar
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved through the core
3 cups of red grapes, halved
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds, you can find them in the nut section of your market; you can also swap in salty pecans, almond slivers or walnut pieces)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
Add the balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Simmer it gently until it has reduced to about 1/2 cup (you don’t have to be exact here, you just want to thicken it and sweeten/intensify the flavors). Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the halved grapes in two tablespoons of olive oil and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Place them on a baking sheet coated with a natural non-stick spray. Do the same with the Brussels in the same bowl that you used for the grapes: toss them with two tablespoons of olive oil and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Place them on a separate, non-stick sprayed sheet pan and place both pans in the preheated oven.
Roast the Brussels for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until they are golden brown and lightly crisped around the edges. Roast the grapes for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until they are noticeably shriveled and slumped down.
Transfer the roasted Brussels and grapes to a large serving platter and drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar, tossing to coat them if you like. Sprinkle the salad with some salty pepitas and serve warm (this is also good cold as leftovers).
(Additional suggestions: salty bits of bacon, pancetta, crumbled spicy Italian sausage, or crisped country ham would be wonderful in this as well)
My Favorite Winter Salad
This salad is a staple – its final flavors adding up to one powerfully delicious conclusion that is, somehow, better than the sum of its parts. Apple and radish have long been paired together because that spicy/sweet crunch is hard to deny, at least from a deliciousness standpoint. The sharp punch from the blue cheese and the sweetness from the candied pecans round the whole thing out and make it one of the most satisfying salads you will ever try. I am particularly fond of the dressing, though, and love how the maple mellows the mustard just enough (say that three times fast).
1 bunch of beets, washed, stems and greens removed
2 teaspoons plus 1/2 cup canola, grapeseed or vegetable oil, divided
5 cups of mixed greens, washed and dried (give or take, you can use a little more or less)
1/2 red apple, thinly sliced
2 – 3 radishes (any variety), thinly sliced
1 – 1.25 cups blue cheese crumbles
1 cup of roughly chopped praline pecans
1/4 cup (give or take) thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (you could also use plain Greek yogurt)
2 tablespoons maple syrup (real maple syrup)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
Using a small knife, peel your beets. Drizzle the beets with two teaspoons of canola or vegetable oil. Season them lightly with salt sand pepper. Wrap the peeled beets in aluminum foil, making a small, snug pouch around them. Place the foil pack on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until the beets are easily pierced through with a knife. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing for your salad.
For the dressing: In a mason jar or other suitable container, mix together the Dijon, mayo, maple syrup and oil. Shake vigorously to mix (you can also whisk it up in a bowl, if you like). If it’s too thick for you, you can add a little more oil to thin it a bit more. Taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking, adding more of any ingredient until it’s to your liking.
To assemble your salad, arrange the greens on a large platter and top with a scattering of apple and radish slices along with some onion slices. Follow with the roasted beet slices and a sprinkling of the blue cheese crumbles. Tumble on some candied pecans and a drizzle of the dressing just before serving. Enjoy.