As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.
Courtesy Chas Diaz
Oh, those flibbityjib summer salads, all frilly lettuces, prissy herbs and tender, kid-glove tomatoes. January is time to leave those fragile young things aside and take up with sturdy salads that are at least as hearty as the uncomplaining Puritan stock we are out here. Get a hold of yourself. Instead of settling for shipped-in boxes of microgreens or plastic-wrapped cukes and tennis ball tomatoes from far away, turn to dignified, delicious composed salads for the winter table. You won’t pine for that silly arugula anymore.
After a notable holiday pigout (well, lobster- and tenderloin-out anyway), I served a family meal of these salads, all composed with local winter vegetables. They were brightly flavorful and simple with none of the heavy dullness we associate with root vegetables. The family raved.
Beet-apple Salad with Stilton and Walnuts:
Really, nothing new, but big, ol’ beets work just as well as tiny spring beets. When the oven is on for another meal, wrap a large beet in foil and tuck it in the back of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes at almost any temperature. Then cool and stow it in the fridge until needed. When you are ready, slip off the skin and slice it thinly. Add sliced apples, cheese and nuts; then dress with a balsamic-mustard vinaigrette. Pecans or almonds are fine instead of walnuts, and even though Stilton is seasonal (traditionally an English winter cheese), curls of Parmesan work as well as a blue cheese.
Sounds swanky, doesn’t it? I ate it first on a Christmas Eve in Switzerland before I even knew that celery root existed. Now, it’s a winter farmers’ market staple. Peel that big gnarled tuber—it smells wonderfully fresh—and push it through the grating blade of your food processor. Then dress it with lemon juice, a mix of mayo and yogurt, salt, pepper and plenty of tarragon, dried or fresh. I also added a tablespoon of hyssop that a friend had dried for me.
Courtesy Chas Diaz
Warm Potato Salad with Fish and Fennel
Slice a fennel bulb (here I like to use the slicing blade of my food processor) and a scallion or two (or a leek) into a bowl. Add 1/4 cup chopped parsley (or dill) and a flaked, smoked trout filet. (I have a farmer friend who smokes fish in the winter.) A can of oil-packed tuna or sardines or a flaked kipper or mackerel will work, as well. So will shredded, smoked duck—hoo ha.
Meanwhile, boil some quartered, unpeeled, small potatoes. When they are tender, drain them and quickly (so the potatoes don’t cool too much) mix in the chopped veg and a good measure (1/3 to 1/2 cup?) of a simple vinaigrette made with garlic, fresh-ground black pepper and a flavorful olive oil. I usually do this in two halves: one dose immediately so the oil soaks into the potatoes and then the other half when they have cooled just a bit.
Comprehensive Cole Slaw
Thinly slice red or savoy cabbage, an apple and maybe a fennel bulb or a kohlrabi. Grate a few carrots into it, too. Add a sweetener, like a little honey or maple syrup, to a basic vinaigrette dressing, as well as dill seed, caraway seed, and plenty of salt and pepper. Warm the vinaigrette so it will soften the vegetables a little. If you happen to have some good bacon, leftover ham or that smoked duck around, dice it up and add it to the salad. Pork goes well with this Germanic combo.
No need to wait doggedly through the winter for salads of local ingredients. Composed winter salads are not make-do—they are make now!