What makes a salad? A quick search turns up this succinct definition: "A cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients."
Perfect. That's nice and vague, and yet when we think of salad, it's a bowl of green lettuce that we are envisioning.
With the chill of winter (finally) knocking on our door, it's time to think of salad with the season in mind, and that means it's time to ditch the lettuce. Save those tender greens for the summer and explore the incredible diversity winter-friendly veggies bring to the table.
1. Because lettuce is kind of crappy during winter.
Extolling the benefits of seasonal eating runs the risk of sounding cliché in a day and age when food labels can be anything from a marketing term to a lifestyle. But this call for seasonal eating is based purely on flavor. Unless you're living in a region where salad greens are still growing, chances are the lettuces you're getting at the grocery are pretty bland. Consider this: That lettuce had to travel to get to you, which means it's been refrigerated quite a while and steadily losing flavor along the way. And despite the best efforts of our crisper drawers, the flavor and texture of tender leaves of arugula, green leaf lettuce, butterhead, and romaine pale in comparison to their spring and summertime selves. But that doesn't mean greens are off the table.
2. And in-season greens are better — and cheaper.
Salads are meant to be fresh and full of bright flavors. One of the easiest ways to ensure that they are is to use ingredients at peak flavor. Thankfully there's a whole class of greens that like a good frost. The family of kales; collards; all the chards, endives, and bright and bitter chicories become, sweet, crisper, and more flavorful versions of themselves once there's a steady chill in the air. And because they are widely available at this time of year, those veggies tend to be far less expensive than they are in their off season. Whether you're shopping in the produce aisle or heading to a winter farmers market, this is the time to buy those greens at their best price.
3. Plus, you can have salad for lunch (and make it the night before).
Lettuce is tender. The leaves bruise easily and they go from crisp to wilted pretty quickly even when lightly dressed — but not winter greens. In fact, these veggies benefit from some extra time marinating in a dressing. When there's enough acid, tougher greens like kale and collards grow soft and tender, which gives them major make-ahead potential. Go ahead and pack a salad for lunch, and you know what? Toss the greens in a citrusy dressing the night before. You won't have to worry about that little jar of dressing leaking all over your lunch bag (which it always seems to do, no matter how tightly you close the lid).
4. There's more to a salad than lettuce, anyway.
Remember that definition of salad we talked about? There's no mention of lettuce in that definition, which means you can build a fresh-tasting, veggie-packed meal out of roasted squash, shredded Brussels sprouts, cubed sweet potatoes, shaved fennel, or thinly sliced radishes. All those sound good, don't they? And not a mention of lettuce in the mix. We don't wait for winter produce the way we wait for a summer-ripened tomato or ears of sweet corn, but just like winter greens, in-season winter vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and all those colorful tubers and squashes are at peak flavor this time of year.
5. So you can have heartier toppings — without weighting everything down.
We've all had a salad that was made with too many ingredients. Think about the last chopped salad you ordered: Maybe you ticked seven or eight items off the list and even after all that vigorous chopping and shaking, the nuts, cranberries, and clumps of shredded cheese ending up at the bottom of the bowl. Those ingredients are pretty dense and heavy compared to tender lettuce — so that's expected. That dressing-drenched lettuce never stood a chance. But that would never happen to a salad made with sturdy kale, or florets of roasted cauliflower, or torn radicchio. Take advantage of the textural benefits of no-lettuce salads with heartier ingredients, thicker dressings, and larger add-ins to build something that is satisfying and still fresh.
Join the No-Lettuce Salad Movement!
This week we're taking the lettuce out of the salad equation. Using everything from in-season roots to colorful winter veggies, we worked with cookbook author, Katie Webster to build hearty and satisfying meal-size salads that are full of fresh, crisp flavors without a lettuce green in sight.
(Image credits: Katie Webster)