The thermostat in Chicago read 1 degree when I woke up this morning, so it’s safe to say that winter is definitely upon us. This season of bitter cold and limited daylight offers a good opportunity to play in a warm kitchen. Salads are a great place to start with trying some new ingredients or experimenting with different flavors. Here are some of my favorite winter salads plus some tips on making your own delicious seasonal flavors:
How to Build Your Own Healthy Winter Salad
1) What’s in Season?
Winter is the season for root vegetables: carrots, beets (golden and red), parsnips, celery root, onions (white, red, and sweet), potatoes (Russet, Yukon, Red, and Purple), sweet potatoes and yams
It also time for dark greens like kale, spinach, arugula, and chard.
Don’t forget about fruit. Fruit is a healthy way to add natural sweetness, brightness, or acidity to salads. All kinds of citrus are coming in: oranges, grapefruit, blood oranges, Meyer lemons, limes, blood oranges, Cara Cara oranges, pomelos
2) “Bean-ify” or “Grain-ify”
These are the words I use to describe amping up the protein and fiber in a recipe by adding beans or whole grains. Sometimes we think of salads as “rabbit food” that will leave us still feeling hungry. By adding healthy energy from beans and grains, though, you can create substantial salads that leave you satisfied.
This is also a helpful trick when transforming a salad that might have had meat into one that is now plant-based vegan. Some easy, healthy swaps would be:
Chickpeas – great in the place of diced chicken (like in typical chicken salad). You can even pulse in your food processor to replicate the texture. Other small white beans work great too
Red beans, pinto beans, and black beans – in place of steak. Delicious and healthy over a taco salad, with great meaty texture
Cooked bulgur, quinoa, and crumbled tempeh – replace the texture of ground meat. Mix with seasonings and dressing, and the flavors will be spot-on.
Other healthy options: Cooked farro, barley, and whole wheat pasta shells
Gluten-free options: Rice (brown, black, wild, or red), peas, corn, brown rice pasta, navy beans, cannellini beans
3) Balance flavor
You also want to think about balancing flavors and textures. Do you have something salty and something sweet? Something soft with something crunchy? Some easy ways to balance flavors:
Salt – olives, capers, hearts of palm, miso, soy sauce, tamari, nutritional yeast
Sweet – fruit (dried or fresh), orange juice, roasted beets, sweet potatoes, caramelized onions
Spicy – chili powder, chili flake, jalapeno, cayenne, hot sauce, ginger, black pepper
Creamy – avocado, tahini, almond butter, peanut butter
Crunchy – diced apple, toasted sunflower seeds, roasted pistachios, chopped peanuts, shaved fennel
4) Pop of Acid
A splash from something acidic will really help elevate the flavors of a salad. Something as simple as fresh lemon juice can transform even a beginner cook to an impressive foodie. Some simple acids:
Vinegar – balsamic, apple cider, champagne, rice vinegar, red wine, sherry
Citrus – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit
Spice – ginger, hot sauce, pepper, cayenne
Ready to get started? Here's a quick 60-second video for Kale Avocado Salad to get you going: