When the weather gets warmer and the layers of clothes come off, we tend to eat more salads – meals that are light and don’t usually require cooking in a hot kitchen. But just because summer is over, that’s no reason to stop eating salads and only eat soups and stews. In fact, the colder months are when it’s even more important to eat our greens and other nutritious veggies. A salad can be so much more than just lettuce and tomatoes. Salads can be hearty, filling, satisfying meals on their own. They can take advantage of the bounty of fall and winter seasonal produce as well as other delicious ingredients that all come together to make salads that belong in the center of the dinner table.
Here are some tips on how to make fall and winter salads that will keep you feeling warm and satisfied:
1. Use Fall and Winter Seasonal Produce
Most people think of summer as the time for the best produce, but autumn and winter are the peak seasons for lots of delicious fruits and vegetables. First of all, fall is apple picking season and in late summer, pears arrive and continue through winter. Other fall fruits would be pomegranates and cranberries which are healthy, beautiful and festive, as well as apricots, figs, grapes, limes, persimmons, and quinces.
My favorite apple-themed salad is my Apple, Cranberry, Arugula and Fennel Salad with an Apple Honee Vinaigrette. The spicy arugula, tart cranberries and anise-flavored fennel all fall into balance with the addition of sweet apples and a slightly sweet dressing. To make the salad: combine 6 cups of arugula and 1 head of fennel that has been sliced in a bowl. Core 1 large apple and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Arrange the apples on the salad along with ¼ cup dried cranberries. To make the dressing: combine 3 Tbs. apple cider vinegar, 2 tsp. vegan honey, 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk until smooth and mix into the salad. This Arugula Fennel Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing is another take on this delicious combination of ingredients. Apples also add crunch to this Vegan Chik’n Salad with Cranberries and Pistachios while apricots shine in this Kale Salad with Apricots and Almonds.
Of course, everyone knows that when autumn arrives, the whole world seems to go pumpkin-crazy. Pumpkin ends up in almost every recipe from drinks to breakfast, from pasta to pastries so why not salads? Besides pumpkin, other winter squash such as butternut and acorn are available for sweet as well as savory recipes. While they are available all year-round, sweet potatoes and carrots are at their peak in the colder months. Other seasonal vegetables include artichokes, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, celery root, fennel, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi and leeks. This Seasonal Sweet Fall Salad combines lentils, butternut squash, cranberries, apples and more for an amazing dish. Be sure to also try this Fregula with Butternut Squash and Sage, Yam and Walnut Salad, Roasted Carrot, Lemon, Avocado Salad with Tangy Dressing and Toasted Seeds and Grilled Beet Salad with Almonds and Dried Cranberries.
2. Choose Winter Greens
Just like fruits and veggies, there are many salad greens at their peak in the colder weather. Fall and winter are the seasons for arugula, Belgian endive, chard, chicories, frisee, escarole, kale, and radicchio. These greens tend to have heartier textures and stronger flavors. You can use them alone or add them to your usual Romaine or mesclun lettuces and greens. A winter salad I put on my holiday table is my Massaged Kale Salad with Pesto, Dried Cranberries and Almonds. Massaging the kale makes it soft and tender. It also turns a whole bowl of kale into less than half a bowl so you need more than you think. Put on some relaxing music, dim the lights and get intimate with your salad. The cranberries and almonds make this a tasty autumn or winter salad.
Place 2 large bunches of stemmed and chopped kale in a large bowl. Add a pinch of salt. This helps break down the greens. Rub 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil between your hands and massage the kale for a few minutes until it is softened and bright green. Massage it the way you want to be massaged at the end of a hard day. Add 2-3 Tbs. of your favorite pesto to the bowl and massage it into the kale as well until it is thoroughly distributed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the salad with ¼ cup dried cranberries and ¼ cup slivered almonds.
More salads with fall and winter greens include this Arugula Fennel Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing, Mizuna, Fennel and Mulberry Salad, Jazzylicious Kale Salad, Vegan Kale Waldorf Salad, Kale and Golden Beet Salad,
3. Make it Hearty with Grains
To really turn your salad into a full, satisfying meal, add cooked grains such as wheat berries, rice, barley, whole-grain pasta, quinoa or bulgur. This Curried Kale and Quinoa Salad is hearty and spicy while this Scented and Crunchy Asian Black Rice Salad has it all: aroma, exotic taste and beautiful presentation. More choices include this Freekeh Kale Salad, Curried Couscous and Vegetable Salad, Quinoa Salad with Caesar Dressing, Quinoa Salad with Figs, Purslane and Goji Berries and this Quinoa and Beet Salad with Hazelnuts.
4. Use Legumes, Beans, Nuts, and Seeds
Adding extra protein turns a salad from a side dish to a main dish. Try making salads with legumes, beans, nuts and seeds. Lentils, especially the green and red ones that hold their shape, are wonderful in salads. They can be added to any salad or they can be the main ingredient. My favorite lentil salad is a warm one with vegetables. To make my Warm Lentil Salad, I cook 1 ½ cups of red lentils until they are tender. While they are cooking, I saute chopped red onion and roasted red peppers. Then I combine the sauteed vegetables with the lentils and wilt a big bunch of baby spinach into it. I top this with a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. It’s delicious hot or cold, as a main dish or a side dish.
Try this Spicy Lentil Salad with tomatoes, jalapenos and sprouted lentils or this beautiful Sprouted Green Lentils and Peanuts Salad with citrus dressing. Also try this Green Lentil Salad, Lemony Chickpea Salad, Sweet Potato and Chickpea Salad, Kale Salad with Grilled Eggplant, White Beans and Fresh Figs, Protein-Packed Vegan Salad with Quinoa, Chickpeas, Lime and Cilantro, and Cajun Corn and Kidney Bean Salad.
5. Make it Meaty the Vegan Way
You can also add tofu, tempeh, or seitan to a salad for a satisfying meal in a bowl. Before I became vegan, my favorite salad was Caesar salad with grilled chicken so I had to make a vegan version. My Grilled Tofu Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons is always in rotation in my house. To make the Caesar Dressing: In a food processor or blender, combine the 2 Tbs. vegan mayo, 1 Tbs. lemon juice, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard and 1 tsp. dulce or kelp flakes. Blend well. Add 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste and blend until you have the desired taste and consistency. To make the Garlic Croutons: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss 4 slices worth of bread cubes with 1 Tbs. olive oil, 1 minced clove of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until crisp, about 15 minutes. Check often to make sure they don’t burn. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To make the Grilled Tofu: Cut 1 block of extra-firm pressed and drained tofu into strips or cubes. Mix 1 tsp. each garlic powder, paprika and dried oregano and salt and pepper to taste into 2 Tbs. olive oil. Let the tofu sit in the olive oil mixture for at least 1 hour. Heat a grill pan or a skillet over medium high heat. Add the tofu to the skillet and cook until browned, about 4 minutes on each side. Set aside. To make the Caesar Salad: Combine 1 shredded large head of Romaine lettuce, 1 sliced red onion and 2 chopped tomatoes in a large bowl. Add the Caesar dressing and mix well with tongs. Add the tofu strips or cubes and the croutons on top of the salad.
More choices include: Gingery Maple Glazed Tempeh on Baby Greens Salad, Mock Chicken Salad, Sesame Tofu and Broccoli Salad, Vegan BLT Salad, and Minced Tempeh Salad with Lemongrass, Sesame and Cashews.
6. Try Warm Salads
Who says salads have to be cold? I love eating warm salads like my Warm Spinach Salad with Tempeh Bacon. Start by preparing the dressing: in a small bowl, combine 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. agave nectar, ½ tsp. Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil and whisk until smooth. To make the salad: in a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook 6 slices of tempeh bacon on both sides until crisp. Remove from the skillet and set it on a paper towel lined dish. In the same skillet, add 1 sliced red onion and cook until they are slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add 8 oz. sliced mushrooms to the skillet and cook until they are browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Add 12 oz. fresh baby spinach to a large bowl. Arrange the onions and mushrooms on top. Chop the tempeh bacon and add it to the top of the salad. Pour the dressing on top of the salad and serve. My other favorite warm salad is my Mexican Tostada Salad which has lettuce that gets wilted with warm beans and onions cooked in Mexican spices.
7. Whip Up Warm and Toasty Salad Dressings
For fall and winter salad dressings, choose spices and flavors that are warm, nutty, spicy, or sweet. Use cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, chai, allspice, mace, star anise, cardamom, coriander, fennel, five-spice and peppercorns. Also think about using more spicy spices like in this Spicy Chipotle Salad Dressing or this Thai Caesar Dressing.
One favorite is Carrot-Ginger Dressing. Combine 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 2 Tbs. chopped ginger, 1 Tbs. tamari or soy sauce, 1 chopped carrot, 1 tsp. agave nectar or light brown sugar and 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil in a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding more oil if necessary. Taste for any salt adjustments. For more ginger experiences, try this Carrot-Ginger Dressing or this Miso-Ginger Dressing.
Besides using warm flavors, you can top a salad with a warm dressing and let it wilt the greens. To make a Warm “Honey” Mustard Dressing: in a small saucepan, combine ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup water, 1 Tbs. agave nectar or maple syrup, 2 tsp. lemon juice,1 tsp. Dijon mustard, a pinch of black pepper and garlic powder. Cook and stir over medium heat until heated through. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste. Just before serving, drizzle warm dressing over your salad.
Salads may be wonderful in the summer but they are also perfect in the fall and winter seasons. Get creative and put all your favorite fall and winter seasonal fruits and veggies into salads, top them with beans, nuts, and seeds or “beef” them up with tofu, tempeh or seitan. With these tips, you can transform all your salads and enjoy them all winter long.