Seasonal Salads

After a run of sunny, 55+F days, it is distinctly chilly today. Root and cruciferous vegetables, along with winter squash, sturdy apples and pears, and citrus fruit will be abundant now in the supermarket displays. I have three salads that use some of this produce to make easy, colorful, and healthy side dishes for autumn menus. The first is Chickpea and Carrot Salad with Feta Cheese. This salad combines chickpeas with carrots and parsley in a lemon scented dressing. The salad can be spooned into a lettuce-lined pita pocket for an easy, portable lunch. Here is how to proceed:

In a medium bowl combine 1 14-16 ounce can of drained and rinsed chickpeas with 2-3 slim, peeled and grated carrots. Add 2-4 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley. Season with about a 1/2 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander. Add a pinch of salt, but be careful, you can adjust the seasoning after the feta cheese is added. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the bowl and the juice of half a medium-sized lemon. Toss it all together and add 2-4 tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and lemon juice as you desire. This amount will serve 2-3 people.

Next is Fennel and Pear Salad. Fennel tends to be a “love it or hate it” vegetable and I love it. Crisp and refreshing raw, mellow and aromatic cooked, it is a versatile and unusually flavored vegetable. It combines beautifully with sweet pears, crunchy almonds and shards of Parmesan cheese in this salad. Quantities can be adjusted to suit the number of people you are serving.
Prepare a quantity of vinaigrette by combining 1-2 tablespoons of freshly-squeezed lemon juice, a scant 1/2 teaspoon grainy mustard, a pinch of salt, and 4-5 tablespoons olive oil (or a combination of olive and grapeseed oil). Slice a medium fennel bulb thinly (this is best accomplished with a mandolin). Transfer to a small bowl and dress with a little of the lemon vinaigrette. Half and core a small firm but ripe pear. Slice it thinly lengthwise and dip each slice in the remaining vinaigrette.

Now compose the salad. Lift the sliced fennel out of the dressing and place it on a serving dish. Sprinkle over the fennel a generous tablespoon of sliced, toasted almonds and a little salt and pepper. Arrange the pears slices atop the fennel and garnish with shavings of Parmesan cheese and a few wisps of fennel fronds. This amount will serve 2-3 people.

The last of my salad trilogy is a red cabbage salad with a warm bacon dressing. Colorful, crunchy, sweet and sour, it is a perfect side dish for a hearty autumn meal.

Red Cabbage Salad with Warm Bacon-Balsamic Dressing (adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2011)
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

1/4 cup dried currants
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
6 cups thinly sliced red cabbage, (about 1/2 a medium head)
3 ounces of bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Place the currants in a small bowl. Heat the vinegar in a saucepan over medium heat until hot (do not boil). Pour the vinegar over the currants; let soak until the currants soften, 15-20 minutes.
Place the cabbage in a large bowl; set aside. Put the bacon in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Saute until browned and beginning to crisp. Add the shallot to the pan and saute for about 1 minute or until softened. Remove from the heat. Stir in the currant-vinegar mixture and the olive oil. Pour the bacon mixture over the cabbage and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand 5-10 minutes. Add the hazelnuts and parsley and toss again to blend. Serve immediately.

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