|Winter salad with Brussels sprouts. © Ryan Schierling|
A main-course salad can be a tricky one to pull off and still feel like you've delivered something respectably substantial. I love salads, but I don't necessarily want to present a plate that has no more appeal than a bowl of rabbit food and call it good. The terribly typical standby giving gravitas is the addition of chicken. Eggs are sometimes appropriate, but certainly less versatile. Bacon, well, that doesn't count. Chicken is all well and good, but I'm not much of a meat eater – much less a meat preparer – in this household, and when I'm in charge of dinner I try not to incorporate extra work for my beloved.
I have long been fan of green salads incorporating fruit, berries and toasted nuts, but this Fall a distant memory surfaced in the form of a side dish I once had at Tom Douglas's restaurant Dahlia Lounge. It was a simple preparation of Brussels sprouts, tender and lightly caramelized, with golden raisins. The sweet counterpoint of the raisins was delicious, and one that gave me the idea that my little cruciferous friends might be the perfect warm and hearty addition atop a salad remplit with harvest fruits and bounty.
The ingredient list may seem daunting at first, but, with the exception of the lettuce and Brussels sprouts, there really isn't more than a good handful or two needed of any given item. If I don't have any of the particular seeds, nuts or dried fruit in the pantry, I just visit the bulk section of the grocery store for small portions of whatever is still on my list. With all the items on hand, preparation is actually quite simple.
We love the crunch of the romaine with the tender and spicy greens, the sweet of the fruit with the salty, toasty crunch of the seeds and nuts, and the savory warmth of the caramelized Brussels sprouts with the cool rich touch of balsamic dressing. If you love fresh feta, as we do, the tangy flavor is a fabulous treat with all of it.
So without further ado, here is a hearty and meatless, front-and-center salad to warm you in Winter.
Winter salad with Brussels sprouts
Romaine lettuce, chopped to bite size
Baby greens – a mix that may include baby spinach, green oak, red leaf, baby beet tops or other such tender greens as you might find in a "Spring Mix" at your local grocer.
Nuts and seeds (See 'A' below for preparation.)
Pecan halves, or pieces
Hazelnuts (filberts), broken
Dry roasted salted pumpkin seeds (or unsalted)
Dry roasted salted pistachios*
Seedless red grapes
Granny smith apple, diced
Dried apricots, diced small*
3/4 pound Brussels sprouts (smaller is better), halved (See 'B' below for preparation.)
Small carrot, peeled and diced small*
Small sweet cherry tomatoes, preferably a mild orange or yellow variety*
Balsamic vinaigrette (See 'C' below for preparation.)
Balsamic vinegar - 1/3 cup
Olive oil - 1/3 cup
Vegetable oil - 2/3 cup
1 clove of garlic, smashed and chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Build each of two large salads by creating a bed of greens using equal parts Romaine and the greens mix. Add half of the prepared "nuts and seeds" to each. Add a handful of each "fresh fruit" and then about one generous tablespoon of each "dried fruit" item to each salad. If you are adding carrots or cherry tomatoes, add a small handful of each to the salad. Top each with a cupful of sautéed Brussel sprouts as well as the crumbled feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette to taste.
A) Add up to 1/4 cup of each of raw nuts to a pan on the stove top on med-low heat. Watch closely and turn frequently until some light toasting is visible. Remove from heat and add any dry roasted nuts or seeds to the pan to warm.
B) In a medium saucepan (with a lid handy) sauté halved brussels sprouts on medium heat with a little bit of olive oil (and/or butter if desired) to caramelize, then turn heat to low and cover to let them steam until completely tender.
C) In a small food processor, blender, or container with a hand blender, mix all ingredients until fully emulsified.
* Indicates delicious optional additions which are not shown in the photo.
Serves 2 large salads.