Virginia Willis Blog

Winter Salads: Think Outside the Arugula Box

Winter Salads on

Winter Salads

Summer salads are easy. A couple of chops of straight-from-the-garden fresh vegetables and you’re good to go. Winter salads require slightly more thought, but it’s a misconception that winter salads must be made from ingredients that are out of season. Winter salads can be made of deliciously bitter greens, earthy root vegetables, and sweet winter squash. Cooked dried beans and whole grains add nutrition, flavor, and substance. Toasted nuts and seeds provide the crunch. And, don’t forget tart, vibrant citrus. Winter salads offer the opportunity to look at ingredients beyond  lettuce and change the way you think of what makes a salad. And, face it, how much stew, chile, and low-and-slow braised meat dishes can you eat? Banish those flavorless tomatoes and flaccid cucumbers harvested on the other side of the globe and give winter salads a try.

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Helpful Hints for Winter Salads

1.Explore cold-weather greens in the raw like kale, collards, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

2. Be aggressive with dressing and vinaigrette qualities with flavor forward ingredients like ginger, garlic, and chili peppers.

3. Add seeds and spices for improved flavor and crunch.

4. Play with cooked whole grains and beans to give winter salads more depth and heft.

5. Citrus juice, zest, and segments are guaranteed to add brightness to nearly any winter salad.

6. Pair combinations of warm cooked and chilled raw ingredients for a variety of textures and temperatures.

7. Rehydrate dried fruits in warmed juice, vinegar, or dressing before adding to winter salads.

8. Add big, bold, bursts of flavor with intense cheeses such as Feta, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Ricotta Salata.

9. Blistering roasted root vegetables brings out their sweetness. Make sure to roast root vegetables in one layer in a hot oven so they will crisp and char, not steam.

10. Roast vegetables and dress them while warm to amp up their flavor.

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In the News: Secrets of the Southern Table

Please check out my essay in The Local Palate on how classic Southern food “doesn’t belong in a museum and that the berry-stained hands of grandmothers shouldn’t solely define it either.”  I’ve also got events throughout the South over the next few months, including the Charleston Wine and Food Festival, talking about reimagining food traditions at SXSW (South by Southwest), and teaching in Tampa. For more information, please check out my events page.

On the thoughts of defining Southern food, my head is spinning from the overwhelming response we received last week with the announcement about the development of my TV series Secrets of the Southern Table with WGBH. It’s been an absolute whirlwind.

Many people have asked about the schedule. We’re fundraising the first and second quarters of 2016, producing in the summer and fall, and premiere is scheduled for early 2017. Many people have also asked how they can help. One aspect of modern life is that social media matters (a lot) to the companies and brand partners for underwriting. So, if you haven’t liked me or followed me on Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, please do so. It would be a tremendous help and I’d be most appreciative.

Thanks for reading. Let me know your ideas for winter salads.

Bon Appétit Y’all! 
Virginia Willis

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Roasted Vegetable Winter Salad

Serves 6

3 small beets, peeled and diced
4 to 6 small carrots, peeled
2 stalks celery, ends trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced
1/2 cabbage, cut into eighths
2-3 tablespoons pure olive oil, more if needed
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 pear, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup loosely packed whole parsley leaves
2-3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
Ricota Salata, shaved for garish

Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a nonstick silicone baking mat. Place the beets at one end of the baking sheet (so as not to color the entire salad red.) Place the carrots, celery, sweet potato, and cabbage on the rest of the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle over the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over the fennel seeds. Transfer to the oven and roast until the vegetables are blistered and tender, about 45 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. While warm, drizzle over the sherry vinegar. Add pear and parsley. Use a pair of tongs to toss and combine. Transfer to a serving dish and top with shaved Ricotta Salata. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

photographs by Virginia Willis

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Copyright © 2016 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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