When hearty dishes and dark days threaten to overwhelm the appetite and spirit, winter salads add brightness. Citrus, savory green things and root vegetables can be combined endlessly.
Executive chef Jacob Cureton, of Atchafalaya Restaurant on Louisiana Avenue in New Orleans, has a couple of these wintry salads on the menu. One customer favorite is Beets in a Cloud, featuring multiple colors of local beets, a classic vegetable of fall and winter, and local oranges.
“I run it all year round because it’s such a hit, but it’s all winter ingredients,” Cureton said. “We did a variation of this dish at the James Beard House in New York.”
Red, golden and candy-striped beets, which turn pink, are roasted with vinegar and aromatics, then halved or quartered. They’re served on a bed of stiffly whipped savory cream with candied pecans, basil and crumbles of goat cheese.
The prettiest roasted beet pieces are used in the salads, and the rest are pureed with citrus zest, Dijon mustard and local honey.
“The purees stand up on the plate and taste really good,” the chef said.
Another root vegetable is the basis of an endlessly versatile Middle Eastern salad.
“Every hummus joint in Israel has a carrot salad on the table,” writes the James-Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya in his beautiful cookbook, “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel,” published last year by Knopf. His Moroccan Carrot Salad is served at his restaurant Saba on a bed of lebna, the Middle Eastern yogurt cheese. Look for it at specialty markets, or substitute thick Greek yogurt on the side.
A friend used to bring a raw version of this carrot salad, made with tuna, for lunches. Shaya’s roasted version uses harissa, the flavorful, hot chile paste. Like hot sauce in Louisiana dishes, you can vary it to taste or leave it out. The chef notes in the recipe that it’s best with thin, young carrots, which are more flavorful.
The finale in our trio of winter salad recipes is one I made when a holiday party hostess sent me home with Ruby Red grapefruits from her backyard. I remembered how much I like making citrus supremes, the chef technique that yields perfect citrus wedges without pith or membrane. Detailed directions are in my recipe for Grapefruit and Avocado Salad. A little practice, and you’ll be turning out supremes by the second or third orange or grapefruit, for this and many seasons of winter salads.