Summer’s salad days are over, not to mention fall’s. We’re supposed to welcome root vegetables, stocked away in the cellar, garage or cool pantry, as the season’s great gift. And we do. Nothing like a good beet borscht or garlic potato mash. But for true salad lovers, the show must somehow go on.
Our household, reluctant to give up the habit of home-grown produce, relies on an unheated greenhouse for a winter supply of spinach, mache, tatsoi and other cold-hardy greenery. (A cold frame or two would also serve well.) Yet in the darkness of early winter, growth of leafy crops slows way down, and our usual definition of salad expands to include something extra-hearty and fortifying. At dinner time I poke through cellar, larder and fridge looking for inspiration close at hand.
Cabbages, which keep for months in cold storage, are a robust, nutritious substitute for lettuce, either in a coleslaw, or as an addition to greens. Red cabbage, sliced very thin, looks especially inviting when mixed with arugula and spinach. Bright orange carrots, either grated or shaved with a peeler, have the same celebratory effect. Both together, with raisins, thinly sliced onions and a dressing of toasted sesame oil and cider vinegar, are better still. Sometimes I’ll go a different route, and combine shaved carrots and sliced onions with apples, walnuts and dried cranberries, dressed with mayonnaise. It recalls a favorite dish my mother used to make: carrots and raisins ground together in a meat grinder and mixed with mayo for a sandwich filling. Sometimes I’ll take a tip from the French and make celeri remoulade, which is just raw celery root cut into thin julienne strips and marinated in a mayonnaise jazzed up with mustard.
Often, I’ll make a whole meal of a salad by adding butter-toasted croutons, apples and cubed or grated cheese to whatever greens are available. Cooked vegetables come in handy too. A few cold leftover baked beets or boiled potatoes are splendid salad extenders.
As winter wears on, it’s a challenging game to conjure up salad fixings. Blessedly, in early January when winter is at its coldest, the increasing day length speeds up the growth of greenhouse offerings, so leafy greens will start to play a more abundant role. In the months following, root crops will become restless in their bins, and this too can be an odd little bonanza. Onion bulbs, sprouting long tops, may be done for, but those green tops are a late-winter gift of accidental scallions. Even the sprouting foliage tufts of aging turnips, kohlrabi and celery root can be snipped and sprinkled over salads for a fresh, flavorful young garnish. I can almost pretend it is spring.
Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”