Inspiration for Winter Salad Season

Mixed Greens with Beet, Grapefruit and Avocado with Grapefruit-Thyme DressingYou might think a person’s natural “Salad Season” would occur in the summer.  Since I started photo-documenting the food we eat, I have discovered our true salad season occurs in the deep winter.  We certainly don’t have a dazzling array of garden and local produce available, but even so, we do our best to choose the best produce and canned goods available to get by.  This is probably the season when we need hearty salads the most here in the Midwest.  Our bodies are hiding in bundles of clothing, we spend our time mostly indoors and in natural darkness, and we inevitably encounter a number of virus threats on a weekly basis.  I consider these light, bright, crunchy, energizing, nutrient rich, colorful salads, [along with sleep] to be one of the secrets to a maintaining a pretty reliable immune system.  They are also my January-February hope that when spring arrives, I will feel and look more springy than a person feels in the depths of winter.  Shaved Carrot, Purple Cabbage and Sunflower Seeds on Romaine

Our first salad, shaved carrot, Parmesan,  radish, white bean and raw sunflower seeds on romaine. Cukes, Halved Grape Tomatoes, Celery Chunks and Kidney BeansI start preparing our salads by adding its prominent components to a bowl.  Chop something crunchy (celery), add a protein (kidney beans), add any other vegetables you have on hand and wish to include (here, cukes and halved grape tomatoes) , toss with greens, (here, romaine and spinach).  If you care to, add a flavor/texture  “treat” such as seeds, nuts, avocado, egg or a bit of cheese.   This is the way to make a great winter a great salad.Radish, Celery, Cuke and Kidney Beans with Spinach and RomaineI typically toss greens with either some citrus juice, lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit or a flavored vinegar.  My favorite vinegars are red wine, balsamic or tarragon vinegar.  Then I drizzle just a few drops of olive oil and toss the greens.  It is surprising how little oil you need to bring all of the flavors together.  Sometimes I add a tablespoon or two of Dijon mustard, or a teaspoon of honey or jam to the oil and vinegar/citrus mixture before mixing vigorously to add further flavor and help the dressing to emulsify before tossing the liquids with the greens.   Chopped fresh herbs or dried herbs along with salt and pepper added according to taste complete the dressing.  Beet, Bosc Pear and Cucumber on Mixed GreensThis salad is composed of beets, peeled bosc pear and sliced cucumber on mixed greens dressed with leftover grapefruit juice and fresh thyme dressing and a little pepper and salt.  Don’t hesitate to open a can of beans, beets or citrus canned (hopefully BPA free) in its natural juice.  There are many health benefits and few sacrifices when you add these nutrient-rich ingredients the easy way.  ourwour

The next salad is composed of sliced radish, sliced pear, white beans and a few slices of brie on spinach with citrus-preserve dressing. Black Bean, Corn, Radish, Grape Tomatoes and Pepitas

Another great salad is composed of corn, black beans, peeled and quartered cukes, minced scallion, halved grape tomatoes and pepitas dressed with lime juice, olive oil, honey and chili flakes over romaine.  Beet, Avocado and Grapefruit dressed with Grapefruit Juice and Thyme on Mixed GreensIn my book, this winter salad is special, grapefruit supremes, sliced avocado and red beets on mixed greens with grapefruit juice and olive oil dressing with thyme leaves. Shaved Carrot and Chickpeas on RomaineHere is another hearty and satisfying salad we’ve enjoyed composed of shaved carrot, celery, chickpeas, sliced radish and provolone on romaine-spinach mix.

Salads in winter are limited by the produce in season, but those limitations can open up room for creativity.  Salads like these complete a meal as a healthy side dish or stand as a meal on their own.  Certainly, they brighten your plate and the winter— try ‘em.

 

Hearty Salad of White Bean, Broccoli, Spinach, Sprouts and Avocado with Soft Egg and Toasted Cheese Bread

If you are anything like us and you like to eat 3 square meals a day, it tends to be a good idea to throw a salad in the mix once or twice a week.  The other night I came home with just such a meal in mind.  I started with an inventory of the fridge.  I gathered up the remaining vegetables that we had on hand, and along with a few items from the pantry, this is what I put together for our supper tonight.

Hearty Salad of White Bean, Broccoli, Spinach, and Avocado with Soft Egg                            Yields 4 Hearty Portions

  • 4 Cups Spinach
  • 1 Cup of Romaine Lettuce – Washed and Cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 Broccoli Crown – Cut into Small Florets
  • 1/8th Cup of a Red Onion – Finely Diced   
  • Large Handful of Julienned Carrots
  • 1—8 ounce can Cannellini Beans – Rinsed and Drained
  • 1 Avocado – peeled and sliced, drizzled with a squeeze of lime juice.
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Can of Tuna – optional

Once I had assembled all of the vegetables I heaped the lettuce and spinach into a medium-sized mixing bowl, began rinsing and chopping the other vegetables, and placed them in the bowl.  At the same time, I started a small saucepan of water heating on the stove to cook the eggs.  When the water came to a boil, I placed 4 eggs in the sauce pan of water, reduced it to a simmer, and set the timer for 6 minutes.  When the bowl seemed to be filled with an ample rainbow of vegetables, I whisked together the ingredients for a spicy and flavorful vinaigrette in a separate bowl. 

Spicy Red Pepper, Honey and Mustard Vinaigrette:

  • 2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – optional: use one or two tablespoons of garlic infused olive oil
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Flavored Vinegar – I used Champagne and Tarragon vinegar
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey
  • 2 Tablespoons Spicy Mustard – I used Kühne, a hot prepared mustard from Germany
  • Course Ground Black Pepper – to taste

While I worked on the salad dressing, Bjorn split several yellow, eggy buns in half and topped them with thinly sliced, reduced fat Colby-Jack Cheese, and then placed the buns on a foil-lined sheet pan in the oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes to melt the cheese.  He also heated a small bowl of leftover spaghetti sauce in the microwave, for dipping the toasted cheese bread.

When the eggs had cooked 6 minutes, I removed two for our supper and carefully peeled them.  I let the remaining eggs continue to cook a few minutes longer so that they would be hard-boiled, making them easier to pack for our lunches tomorrow. 

I drizzled the dressing over the bowl of salad, tossed the salad gently with tongs, and served it on a platter.  I placed the avocado slices on top, and gently sliced the eggs just before serving to expose the warm, soft yellow yolk.  I’m seeing “soft eggs” everywhere, in blogs, such as this tasty-looking and classic presentation on Smitten Kitchen, in magazines and in restaurants on bruschetta, pizza, and salads.  Talk about having a classic food item go trendy!  I’m all for it though, eggs are a versatile, simple yet exquisite food.  Bjorn added about half of a can of tuna to his plate, and mixed it into the salad.  Adding tuna to the omnivore version of this salad added protein and healthy omega 3 fatty acid, a heart-healthy fat.  The Avocado and the Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the dressing also added heart healthy fats to both of our plates.

The spinach, romaine, sprouts, carrots and broccoli gave the salad a nice crunch and were full of antioxidants, calcium and potassium.  The white beans and egg added a contrasting soft texture to the salad, and protein which made the salad a hearty meal.  The vinaigrette had a pleasant kick of dijony, red-pepper heat, and set off the flavors of the soft egg, avocado and red onion.  The toasted cheese bread made a yummy side dish dipped in the warm spaghetti sauce.  We enjoyed it all.

The salad was huge and made plenty for two servings at supper time, two servings for lunch the next day with a little more to spare.  The salad was hearty enough to be a satisfying, complete meal, and had a healthy rainbow of veggies, good sources of protein and healthy fats to make it a nourishing meal, nutritionally speaking.  It is wonderful to toss together a variety of vegetables and pantry staples into a salad.  It makes for a simple, healthy and satisfying supper that makes you feel good, and that you can feel good about eating.  Give it a try!

White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder

It is a good indication that we are getting pretty low on groceries and fresh produce when I decide what is for dinner by googling the few ingredients we have left to find an idea.  Tonight, I poked around the kitchen and found a can of white beans, a potato, and a half a bag of frozen corn to work with.  Those three ingredients sounded like a good base for a soup.  I wasn’t feeling like a chunky Tuscan White Bean Stew, or a creamy Rosemary White Bean Soup even though they looked tasty. We didn’t have half the ingredients for this luscious looking Corn Chowder with Chilies by Pioneer Woman and we wanted something lighter.  As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever combined white beans, corn and potato in one pot, but it seemed like these 3 pale, starchy comforters had to go together.  I thought “there must be a recipe for this white bean, corn and potato chowder!”  I immediately found two, fairly similar recipes that sounded tasty, [here and here].  I took cues from both recipes, made a few adjustments of my own and ended up with a soup that was healthy and warming that we both enjoyed.  First, I assembled my ingredients.

I think it is a good sign about a recipe when the ingredient list is short.  For one thing, in a simple recipe each ingredient plays a vital role in the dish as a whole.  There is also a better chance that your pantry and fridge will contain what you need so you don’t have to run to the store.  Most importantly you won’t have to pull out your hair trying to follow a complicated recipe or spend your evening chopping and measuring a zillion ingredients.  My White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder contained:

  • One cup of Frozen Corn.
  • 1 16 ounce can of Cannellini Beans.  – I happened to have a large can of beans so I used it, but you’d be fine with a 14 ounce can.  If you are up for preparing dry beans, which sadly, I am not, you should use about 1 cup of dry beans, soaked and cooked in water until tender.
  • 1 Yukon Gold Potato washed and chopped.
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced — I ended up using only one carrot, even though my photo contains two.
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped.  –I didn’t have any celery, but normally, I would include it.  Diced Onions, Carrots and Celery, or a mirepoix if you are cooking in French, makes a solid aromatic base for almost any soup or sauce.
  • 1 four cup carton of Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth.
  • For Garnish:  1 thinly sliced green onion and coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley  are both optional, but good.
  • About 1/2 a teaspoon each of crushed dried Rosemary, and dry Thyme.
  • A splash of skim milk, or half and half, or heavy cream, depending what fits into your diet.
  • A small amount of Olive Oil for sautéing the veggies.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

We have 2 people eating in our house most nights, so I try to cut soup recipes down to 4 portions, so that we each get to have a hearty bowl for supper and a smaller bowl for lunch the next day.  It took me two years to figure out that I need to cut down most recipes.  Having a few frozen portions is great for lunches at work or an easy supper, but a freezer can fill up fast in the winter when I feel like making a new pot of soup a few times per week.  If you have a bigger head count, or feel like stockpiling soup for lunches and lazy days, you can easily double or triple this recipe.

Once I had all of the veggies for the chowder chopped, I began by sautéing the onion and carrots.  I rinsed the cannellini beans, and mashed about half of them on a cutting board with a potato masher.  I did this for several reasons.  Since I wanted the chowder to be light and healthy I decided not to use half and half or cream in my chowder which are traditional chowder ingredients.  Mashed white beans added velvety texture to the soup liquid that it would otherwise lack without cream.  I used a potato masher because I don’t have an immersion blender* and lugging out the blender or food processor to puree half of the soup is far too much effort for me on a Tuesday night.  The potato masher works quite well to create a rustic creaminess and it cuts down on dish washing which is also a plus.  When the carrots and onions began to get soft in my enamel dutch oven, I added the rest of the ingredients except the milk and garnishes.  I let the soup simmer for a good half hour to 40 minutes.  This gave me time to set the table, check Facebook and chop up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and leaves of romaine lettuce for a small salad, along the lines of a caprese, minus basil.  I dressed the salad with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut herb mixture.  Once the chowder was hot and all the flavors combined, I removed the pot from the heat.  I mashed the entire mixture of veggies little a more with the potato masher right in the soup pot to allow the carrots, corn and potatoes to add body to the liquid in the chowder.  Right before serving the chowder I stirred in a splash of milk.  I served the chowder in a small bowl with the salad on the side of the plate.

On top of Bjorn’s salad I added a few this slices of Sopprasetta, a dried, cured Italian salami.

We loved this chowder.  It was warm and satisfying, but still light and healthy.  It will reheat well for our lunch, and we will able to eat the whole pot in two meals.  This meal made good use of the last few vegetables in the house.  Even if my fridge is fully stocked, I’d make it again.

* An immersion blender might be a good gift idea, hint, hint.