Photo by Judith Hausman
Fall salads are a different animal, so to speak. In the spring, we yearn for fresh greens: juicy, delicate lettuces and herbs with the simplest dressing. In the fall, we crave a bit more texture and density. Like the pleasure of wrapping up in a wool sweater during autumn, more substantial salads brace us for the brisk weather.
During the fall, we get a second chance at arugula. Sweet, soft pears and crunchy walnuts, chestnuts or pecans are a classic counterbalance to arugula’s bitter and aromatic leaves, while pomegranate seeds and almonds tossed with arugula greens suggest Middle Eastern flavors. If second-crop spinach comes around again, I don’t go much beyond bacon and eggs or bleu cheese. These well-worn combinations are hard to improve on.
Chopped, young Asian greens, such as tatsoi, mustard and baby bok choy, are great for fall eating, too, because they are sturdier and have a hardy bitterness. Sesame-oil dressings or cooked noodles tame them a little, as does a little sugar, hoisin sauce or pineapple tossed in the salad bowl.
I also love lightly steamed green beans fancied up with a walnut-oil dressing, chopped egg, nuts and capers.
Fall is the time for grated salads or slaws as well. Maybe you were raised with the carrot-mayo-raisin combo; consider trying a more grownup version: a grated-carrot Moroccan salad with cumin and lemon. Try grating kohlrabi or celeriac in salad, too. You can add a creamy dressing and sweet-ish herb like tarragon to temper their earthiness. A nutty cheese, such as Gruyère or Comté, is also good with root vegetables such as these. Ultra-thin, sliced fennel and celadon green celery, dressed with a simple vinaigrette, are refreshing and lovely on the plate. If you can still find a cucumber around, thinly slice it in with them.
Fall mushrooms, such as porcini or a wild mix, make rich fall salads. Thinly slice them and dress with lemon and dill. Add diced dried figs and some fennel. Or create a warm salad with mushrooms, olives, sundried or fresh cherry tomatoes and homemade croutons, sautéed in garlic and olive oil. This transforms stale bread handsomely.
Winter squash must be cooked first, but it can be salad-like, too. Roast thin rings of delicata or acorn squash to combine with hazelnuts or walnuts, diced figs, or apricots. Add curry or cumin to the dressing and mound it all on top of a chiffonade of raw kale. Try dotting the roasted rings with crumbs of goat cheese, curls of Parmesan or chunks of bleu cheese — a little good oil with some balsamic is enough.
No need to hunker down completely quite yet; just enlarge your definition of “salad” and keep tossing.
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.