In theory, winter is the most difficult season to have a salad of leaves, and some people cast the idea of a leaf salad right out of their minds during the darker months.
There are in fact lots of great things for the salad bowl at this time and in many ways the salad bowl is even more important and significant, as there really are few other salad vegetables like tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers and beets around. Certainly a winter salad requires more creativity than the times when the garden is full of green leafy things, but that just adds to the fun. You will need to think outside of the box here.
So what are the greens that are growing at this chilly time? Lambs lettuce survives snow and frost and is great on its own or as part of a mixture of leaves. Bitter and beautiful radicchios and chicories seem to thrive on glacial conditions. Winter cabbage is under rated and can be very finely shredded- a test of your knife skills. Brussels sprouts can have their leaves separated, or finely shredded like the cabbage.
A mild snap will yield watercress and land cress. The land cress self seeds like mad in my garden and I eat it hairy roots and all. Speaking of a mild spell, brussels sprout plants, given the correct clement conditions, will throw out little shoots of new fresh green growth which are quite fantastic in a salad or cooked as a vegetable. The widely available kales such as curly and red Russian can be destalked and torn into bite sized pieces and these too, will react to a rise in temperature like the brussel sprout with quite delicious little new shoots. Small cavollo nero leaves, also de stalked and torn into small pieces are dark and terrific.
Brocolli tops or greens add another flavour and texture. If some of your parsley and chives have survived the cold, they can be coarsely chopped and added to the bowl. If it is a really chilly day or the leaves are a particularly bitter bunch, I sometimes add a tiny bit of honey to the dressing, but be cautious as you don't want the dressing to taste sweet.
- 4 large handfuls of mixed leaves, carefully washed and dried and comprising of a mixture of some of the following;
- lambs lettuce torn into little bunches or individual leaves
- radicchio and chicory leaves torn into bite sized pieces
- brussel sprout, leaves separated or finely shredded
- cabbage leaves, very finely shredded across the grain
- kale leaves, destalked and pulled into small bit sized pieces
- watercress or landcress in individual sprigs or leaves
- cavollo nero leaves, the tiniest ones left whole or larger ones destalked and torn into bite sized pieces
- chives and parsley, coarsely chopped
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white or red wine vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon honey, optional
- Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- A selection of possible leafy ingredients are listed above, but choose carefully because you don't want the selection to be too wincingly bitter
- Watch out for the new seasons olive oil for this salad. Generally available for mid November on, it can be sensational and its dazzling green colour looks like it is the juice of green clover rather than an olive
- The vinegar in the dressing can be replaced with the juice from an aromatic lemon
- Try and use a honey local to where you are, bearing in mind that wonderful honey is being produced now in urban areas as well as the countryside
- Place the mustard, honey if using, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add the vinegar and whisk in the olive in a steady stream. Taste and correct seasoning.
- To assemble the salad, place the leaves in a large bowl. Whisk the dressing again to make sure the oil and vinegar are properly mixed and add just enough dressing to the leaves to lightly coat them. Lift up the leaves with your fingers open wide to encourage the dressing to coat them evenly.
- Taste to see if a little extra salt is needed. Transfer to a clean bowl or plates and serve immediately.