I brought this salad to a brunch where my friends and their brand-new babies were gathering on a recent chilly Sunday morning. With donuts, cheesy egg bakes, and mimosas on the menu, it helped to make a small contribution of vegetables. It can be tough for a salad to compete with all that, but people seemed to enjoy it. As one of my friend’s husbands remarked, “it’s saying something that this is on my plate right now.” After brunch, the babies got bundled up in winter gear and went for a sleigh ride around the yard. By now, the snow is all melted, but the spring produce hasn’t quite yet sprung. So I’ll share this winter salad to tide me over.
Pickling vegetables can be an ambitious endeavor, and it’s a science trying to develop delicious flavors while avoiding incubating dangerous bacteria. This technique of a quick pickle, however, produces the best of flavor in just a short time (and without having to sterilize the jars). These wraps have great flavor and enough bite to lift them out of the mundane.
First, roasting the bell peppers gives them depth and complexity. Then a 24-hour bath in a salty vinegar mixture gives the peppers a bright acidity; this makes the peppers really pop, rather than the savory-subtle brine of the full-blown pickling process. Adding spinach gives the wraps crunch factor.
Given that it’s been absolutely frigid for weeks on end, most of my cooking has been one of two things: long-simmering stove-top dishes or supplementing the heating in my apartment by turning on the oven, chopping some vegetables, and allowing them to roast all afternoon. With all the snow, and cold, and damp, cooking in a warm kitchen has been a source of comfort. And while I’ve made a good number of stews, soups, and starches, I was particularly pleased with this recent production. A little bit of salty and a little bit of sweet all comes together in this beautiful winter salad.
To make the salad I start by roasting the Brussels sprouts in the oven for a good chunk of an hour before assembling the rest of the ingredients. For this version, I used the teeny tiny Brussels sprouts at Whole Foods, so I simply sliced them the halves. If you use bigger sprouts, consider quartering them. They’re roasted with a hefty dose of olive oil and seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper before going in the oven. After roasting, a toss them with a bit of balsamic vinegar, which, paired with the remaining olive oil on the vegetables, turns into the dressing for the salad. This isn’t a heavily dressed salad, but feel free to add a bit more oil or vinegar if you need it. The light dressing works in part because the Brussels sprouts, apples, and raisins are so moist, and their warmth just ever so slightly wilts the arugula. So rather than tough, dry fronds, the separate ingredients of the salad come together to serve as dressing.
I made this onion dip for my friends’ Super Bowl party this year, which we paired with Parmesan pita chips. The caramelized onions bring significant sweetness to the dip, so having the extra oomph of the onion powder and the chives helps balance the flavors and doesn’t let the sweetness dominate.
That weekend I made a big batch of caramelized onions for a couple of different recipes. Here are a couple of recipes from the past that include caramelized onions, in case any extra onions are left over.
Open-faced Caramelized Onion and Fontina Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Caramelized Onion and Tomato Tart
Red Lentil Dal with Asparagus and Perfect Roasted Potatoes
Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Spring Rolls
The day after David and I got married we spent the day hanging out with our friends and family in Boston’s North End. We had a leisurely lunch, got drinks on the patio, and strolled through the streets of the St. Anthony’s festival. As the hours passed, our group dwindled as people left in groups and pairs to catch their trains, head to the airport, or pack up the car and hit the road. By dinner time, everyone had gone, and David and I found ourselves alone, enjoying married life together in our neighborhood for the first time. We found our way to a cookout hosted by one of the neighborhood restaurants. I’d been invited by one of the owners: an elderly man who drinks his coffee on the sidewalk outside his restaurant in the early hours of the morning, when I’m heading off to work. We’re two of the only people on the streets that early, so we recognize each other, and though we don’t know one another’s name, we say hi and wave. The week before the cookout (and the wedding), he called out to me across the street, mentioned that he was throwing a party, and suggested I stop by.
The street was full of people, and a large grated grill was set up outside. Inside, a small band was set up in the corner, and there were coolers with beer. They grilled the pork chops in rows, slicing the meat into strips when they were just cooked through, and piling them on a large platter. People gathered around the grill with each fresh batch, taking a share, then making their way back to their beers. This was some of the best, juiciest meat I’ve had in ages. It wasn’t overcooked or tough, and it had just a touch of an oily citrus sauce that boosted the flavor just so. We felt lucky to have been invited.
Perhaps it isn’t such a surprise to find a kale and white bean soup on a food blog smack dab in the middle of January. Not only have we been confronted with weeks upon weeks of achingly cold weather, but the recipe fits well into the content niche of post-new-year’s resolutions but pre-Valentine’s Day indulgence. But that’s not why this soup is here today. In reality, this soup was no easy feat for me. I’m actually relatively new to the “enjoying beans” bandwagon, and I’m still taking baby steps towards liking wilted greens.
But that’s one of the fun things about cooking, and eating, and growing. Our tastes buds change, and we learn to like to ingredients and new flavor combinations. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have eaten beans in any form, but I’ve been moving from one dish to the next (starting with black beans tucked into cheesy quesadillas, moving to beans and rice), and finally made my way to beans and wilted greens. I have to admit, I’m not quite there yet with the wilted greens. Just this evening David made a tomato and wilted spinach pasta for dinner, and by the end of the meal I still had some wilted leaves on my plate. But I’m working on it, and trust me, this soup works.
I’m not big on new year’s resolutions, but as we start the new year, I do have one goal that I’d like to work on during the coming months. I’d like to take the flavors of my sauces to a higher level. I hope to learn about new flavors and ingredients and experiment with ways to incorporate them into familiar dishes or some of my old favorites. And I want to start using flavors and ingredients that I’m familiar with in bolder, more confident ways.
As the days get darker the pull of comfort food gets stronger. For me, more often than not, that means making pasta for dinner after trekking home from work. This pasta dish, which gets its flavor from onions, garlic, and bell peppers (one of the only vegetables that still manage to look bright, fresh, and appealing as the year swings away from summer), is a good bridge to some of the heavier meals I’m sure will come, along with the snow, in a few weeks. It’s flavorful and filling, and using a dry white wine like a chardonnay as the base of the sauce (instead of heavy cream) keeps it from going overboard.
It’s become a dish I cook often on those days when time is tight and we haven’t planned anything else for dinner. The ingredients are easy to find, and we often have a lot of them on hand in the fridge or pantry. But I think it’s also one I’ll keep in mind as the seasons change and I have access to a wider variety of fresh ingredients to swap in place (or in addition to) the peppers.
What to make for dinner isn’t always an easy question to answer. As a dietitian, I think cooking at home is one of the best (and really, easiest) ways to help meet your nutrition goals. Whether you need to watch your intake of specific nutrients or ingredients, or you’re looking to improve your health or reach and maintain a healthy weight, it’s much easier to control what you put in your body if you make it yourself. But I also know there are many challenges to deal with between the thought “I want to cook something healthy for dinner” and getting it on the table.
This is a pasta dish I’ve been making recently. I like it for a number of reasons:
1. First, and most important, it tastes good and is a satisfying weeknight meal.
2. It’s just a two pot meal: one to cook the vegetables, one to cook the pasta. This definitely helps make cleanup easier.
3. The ingredients aren’t hard to prep (as I mention below, there are even pre-chopped vegetables that you can buy to save time)
4. The meal isn’t expensive to make. Cabbage and pasta, in particular, are on the inexpensive end of the spectrum. Brussels sprouts, when in season, are reasonable. Pancetta can be pricey, but you can also substitute bacon or omit the meat altogether.
5. It’s a one-and-done kind of meal: it’s a vegetable-packed pasta dish that is so appropriate smack in the middle of winter and the sluggish weeks leading up to spring. The vegetables are mixed right in to the pasta, so you don’t have to make a side dish or salad along with it. Feel free to add it if you want to, but the cabbage and Brussels sprouts combo go a long way all on there own towards making sure you get plenty of vegetables at dinner.
This fig salad is a bridge between summer and fall: the weather is warm enough to warrant something light and easy for dinner, but seeing fresh figs for sale at the store signals the coming of chillier weather. For us here in Boston, a busy summer is melting into a busy fall. I’m settling into my job as a dietitian at the hospital, and David and I are still humming along as newlyweds.
We’ve decorated the windowsills of our apartment with the potted plants that served as the centerpieces at our guests’ tables. We knew early on in the wedding-planning process that we didn’t want large (or expensive) floral arrangements towering over the food, but thinking of a suitable alternative took some time. We worked with a florist who played off the blue theme of the aquarium setting to come up with a display of various plants and herbs housed in blue glass pots.
Not that potted plants or aquarium animals have much to do with the fig salad, but it’s fun to share what other creative avenues we’ve gone down this fall, apart from the food we’ve served at our table.