leafless salads

When I’m cooking dinner (or writing recipes), my default mode for rounding out the meal with something fresh is to just “add a green salad.” This works fine for most of the year, but what about during the dregs of winter — like now — when it feels like the only available greens are bagged or blah or very much lacking in the flavor department? Here’s what I say to that: Who was the one who decided the base of a salad had to be a green leaf anyway? Instead of defaulting to Bibb or spinach or romaine, what else could we toss with vinaigrette for that reliably bright hit on the plate? I asked three of my favorite recipe developers — I think of them as my “Salad Squad” — to weigh in.

Start with: Shaved Fennel (above)
The How-To: “My current favorite salad base is shaved fennel,” says Susan Spungen, author of the Susanality newsletter and the upcoming cookbook Veg Forward. “I always keep fennel on hand because it lasts a long time and is there when I need it.” She combines thinly sliced Honeycrisp apple, thinly sliced celery, and thinly sliced radishes with a yogurt and lemon dressing. (Add a spoonful of yogurt to the Lemon-Dijon here.) “Then maybe just a spoonful of mayo to soften the edges, and a sprinkle of dill over the top.”

Start with: Cruciferous Vegetables
The How-To: Kay Chun, a recipe developer for NYT Cooking, keeps her winter fridge stocked with all members of the cruciferous family. “Green cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and baby bok choy are crunchy and terrific in salads, and don’t need any prep. Sometimes I use just one; other times I’ll combine two for mixed textures.” She just shreds them raw and super thin, then adds dressing. “They take to any dressing, whether it’s a mustard vinaigrette or something creamy.”

Start with: Beets and Carrots
The How-To: “I am crazy for raw grated beets,” says Spungen. “I will often grate a big ones in the food processor to mix with shredded Lacinato kale.” She recommends a mustard-y shallot-y dressing with a hint of garlic and some grated pecorino or Parmesan. If you want to be strictly leafless, go with raw grated beets and raw carrots with a cumin-laced dressing, lots of fresh mint, and currants or raisins. Hetty McKinnon, author of the upcoming Tenderheart, loves beet salads, too, but starts with the roasted variety: “One of the most popular salads when I had a salad business was a ‘borscht salad,’ which was basically roasted beets with a dill crème fraîche and walnuts. Definite borscht vibes but presented in a more robust way, which is important in the winter.”

Start with: Broccoli
The How-To:  My own go-to leafless salad is some version of what you’re looking at above. I simmer broccoli for 4 to 5 minutes, then immediately plunge the stalks into an ice bath so they stay bright green. Then I chop the stalks finely (stems and all) and treat them the way I’d treat lettuce in a salad, tossing with pickled minced onions and peppers, and my favorite all-purpose vinaigrette or just a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar. McKinnon likes to use broccoli as a base, not just for side salads but for dinner salads. She chars it in a grill pan, roasts it, or airfries it, then adds whatever she has on hand (beans, lentils, quinoa). “I often add a protein like tofu or tempeh to make it even heartier.” And for dressing? “I rely on vegan mayo mixed with garlic powder, capers, lemon and nutritional yeast.”

Start with: Kohlrabi, Daikon, Celeriac, Radishes
The How-To: Spungen reminds us that the mandoline is your best friend when it comes to hearty winter produce. “Tough-to-eat vegetables like kohlrabi, daikon, celeriac, and watermelon radishes become supple when sliced paper thin.” She recommends tossing them in a sweet honey-mustard based vinaigrette to balance the sharpness of the vegetables, and top with shavings of a nutty cheese, like aged gouda, and almonds.

What leafless salads do you love? Please share your recs…

P.S. Joanna’s sister’s killer salad recommendation, a potato salad trick, and 10 dinners with an egg on top.

(Top photo by Susan Spungen.)