Tips for Bolder, Brighter Winter Salads

February 26, 2018

Throughout the cold-weather season, we rely on pantry ingredients like dried herbs and spice blends to transport our kitchens to a warmer place. That's why we've partnered with The Spice Hunter to bring you bright ideas for winter salads.

Salads don’t require the precision of baking, the stress of executing hot dishes à la minute, or any fancy equipment. I constantly tell anyone who will listen that salad-making is one of the best ways to get creative in the kitchen—to experiment with flavor combinations, try out a new technique, and use up what’s in your crisper drawer. Salads are forever flexible and adaptable, and that’s why I love them.

They also embody the way a lot of us want to eat right now. More vegetables, less meat. More flavor, more texture, more interest. Food that wakes up our palates and keeps us wanting more.

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And while you associate salads more with peak garden season, when the snappiest spring peas or juiciest summer tomatoes never fail to thrill, winter salads can be just as exciting and satisfying. Here are some of the surefire strategies I’ve found for making bright, delicious salads all four seasons:

  • Lean on your larder (stocked with grains, beans, pasta, nuts, dried fruit, coconut milk, frozen shrimp, and more) for hearty, flavorful salads.
  • Brighten your salads with sunny herb blends and toasty spices—slip them into meat and seafood rubs, fold them into creamy dressings and punchy vinaigrettes, toss vegetables with them before roasting or sautéing...or all of the above depending on your salad!
  • Choose bold colors to match your bold flavors; if your salad looks beautiful, you're going to enjoy it more.
  • Keep salads zingy and fresh by adding lots of citrus (both the zest and juice!), tart pomegranates, crisp apples, juicy grapes, and all varieties of greens.
  • Reach for sturdy, wilt-proof ingredients for make-ahead salads (and desk lunches too). Think things like roasted butternut squash, mushrooms, radicchio, lentils, and shredded chicken.
  • Play with proportions: go lighter on grains and legumes and heavier on vegetables for better balance, and to keep every bite interesting.
  • Use a range of cooking techniques in your salad-making (roasting, toasting, sauteing, searing, broiling, boiling, etc.) for always-warming, never-boring salads with a variety of textures.
  • Whip your cheese, spread it on a platter, and pile your salad on top to keep things pretty (and ensure creamy cheese in every bite).

I put these tips to good use when creating this Roasted Butternut Squash & Toasted Farro Salad with Curried Brown Butter. It’s bold in color, texture, and flavor; lively from fresh greens tossed in at the end; and hardy enough to prepare in advance (and tote to work the next day). Everything’s in perfect balance, too, since the farro nestles up with the butternut squash (instead of hogging the bowl). By far my favorite part of this salad is the curried brown butter, which is used in two ways: when roasting the butternut squash, and for toasting the farro. I’ve toasted farro countless times in olive oil to enhance its nutty flavor, but until making this salad, I’d never toasted farro in brown butter or curry powder (let alone brown butter and curry powder). Now I can’t stop. It’s a good trick to have up your sleeve for adding verve and complexity to any type of grain salad.

These tips also inspired four other winter salads I've been keeping in heavy rotation. I nearly always have frozen shrimp, rice, coconut milk, and curry powder on hand, so this Curry-Coconut Shrimp and Rice Salad is a boon when my fridge is nearing empty. When my fridge is full of leftover chicken (and greens and grapes too), I turn to this Warm Garam Masala Chicken Salad for its jumble of flavors and textures (and addictive naan croutons). A bit more primped and polished, this Warm Salmon and Lentil Salad has bright, sunny herbes de Provence in both the salmon rub and creamy yogurt dressing, a surefire pick-me-up on gray days. For those nights when I want creamy cheese with a salad topper, I rush into my kitchen and make this salad of Seared Mushrooms, Radicchio & Fregola with Whipped Ricotta. It never, ever disappoints.

So grab your salad bowl (and maybe a sheet pan or skillet too), raid your pantry and crisper drawer, and make salad! Start with any of my favorite winter salads above, or use these strategies to inspire your own creations. The rest of winter has never looked so bright.

We've partnered with The Spice Hunter to bring you bright ideas for winter salads. Each one highlights the way a spice blend—like the curry, herbes de Provence, Italian seasoning, and garam masala blends featured here—can bring a dish to life, as well as smart tricks and tips to make your cold-weather salads better than ever.

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Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.