Winter Salads

Red, green, and white are colors I associate with this early winter season.  They show up in Christmas lights, gift paper, ribbons and wreaths.  In hedgerows, there are rose hips, hawthorne, holly and snowberry.  And on the table, there are salads from the winter garden where radicchio, red mustard and kale, mache and arugula, escarole and curly endive offer more versions of the red, green and white of the season.

With winter salads in mind, I planted these greens in summer and fall, beginning with kale in mid-July, continuing with escarole, endive and radicchio in early August and the others, mache, mustard and arugula every few weeks from mid-August until late September.  In an August post I wrote about planting many of these greens:

Now they are mature, growing slowly if at all in the cooler temperatures and shorter days of our coastal northwest winter.  I keep the escarole, curly endive and radicchio covered in a low plastic tunnel because the rain will cause them to rot.  The kale, mustard, arugula and mache are fine in the rain though I cover them as well when nighttime temperatures head for the low twenties.

Escarole: “Natacha”

Radicchio: “Fiero” and “Indigo”

Mache: “Verte de Cambrai”

Arugula and Red Giant Mustard

Harvesting these greens is pretty straightforward.  With kale, mustard and arugula, I snip off individual leaves and the plant continues growing. With mache, escarole, curly endive and radicchio I harvest the entire plant by cutting it off at the base.  The mache rosette is usually free of any tough or yellowed bottom leaves but the others often have some weathered and tough outer leaves that I pull off and compost.

Washing the individual leaves is easy in a salad spinner.  Washing the full plants is a bit more complicated.  After rinsing the mache rosettes, I grasp the rosette root side up in one hand and with the other hand slice across the plant about an inch or so above the root stem.  The now separated leaves wash and dry easily in a salad spinner.  I use the same approach with the much bigger escarole and curly endive plants.  The one variation is that after cutting off the root end I separate the outer leaves from the smaller, creamier-colored inner leaves.  I use the inner leaves for salad and save the larger outer leaves to sauté in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Finally, the radicchio heads are usually tightly wrapped, so after trimming off the root and outer leaves, I simply slice or tear the leaves of the head as I would cabbage.

Each of these greens has a distinctive flavor.  Kale is earthy, arugula is peppery, mustard is, well, mustardy.  Mache is nutty and escarole, curly endive and radicchio are all pleasantly bitter.  The flavors mix well together and are especially pretty with their shades of red, green and white.

Sometimes though I’ll enjoy just one all by itself heaped into a salad bowl.  For dressings, I like simple vinaigrettes made with sherry, cider or white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil so that the flavors of greens stand out.

I often stop here, with a delicious, leafy salad.  But, there are winter roots and fruits that mix wonderfully with these greens.  Turnip, celery root, beets, apples and pears all add further flavors and textures as well as red and white colors to the greens.  The other day, I sliced some Gilfeather turnip into matchstick-size pieces and added them and some diced winter pears to a mix of escarole and mache.  The soft, sweetness of the pear and the crisp, pungency of the turnip blended perfectly with the bitter escarole and nutty, mineral flavored mache.  I used cider vinegar vinaigrette.

Another favorite winter salad is celery root and apple with mache or arugula.  I slice the celery root into matchstick-size pieces and marinate them for an hour or so in a mix of white wine or cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and finely diced shallots.  For a pound and a half of celery root, I use a quarter cup of vinegar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and one to two tablespoons of minced shallot.  Then I add diced red apples, mache or arugula and four to six tablespoons of olive oil.  It’s a beautiful red, white and green salad.  A few toasted pecans or hazelnuts add one more delicious flavor.

Finally, beets, boiled, peeled and diced or peeled, diced and roasted are a perfect addition to any of these greens, both for flavor and for color.

On these dark December days with seed catalogs arriving daily, it’s tempting to look ahead to the first tender salads of spring but right now and for the next few months are perfect times to enjoy tasty winter salads.

Greens for Fall and Winter

If you have garden space and interest, you still have time to plant cold-hardy greens for late fall and winter.

Last week, I started seeds of escarole, curly endive, radicchio and mache, also know as corn salad.  They’ve germinated and will be ready to set out in the garden in another week or two. A good spot for them will be the storage onion bed that is empty now that I’ve just harvested the onions.  I also planted four short, three-foot rows of arugula directly in the garden in part of the bed available after I pulled the fava bean plants.

Every other week between now and late September, I’ll plant more mache in flats and as space opens up in the garden more arugula and several different varieties of mustards.  All of these cold-hardy greens will thrive in the cooler temperatures and shortening daylight of late summer and fall and, with a little protection during cold spells or heavy rains or even snow, will provide tasty salads and sautés throughout the winter.

If you want to try just two, arugula and mache are good choices.  You can plant them any time between now and the end of September.  Arugula germinates quickly and grows vigorously.  It tolerates light frosts, but if weather colder than mid-twenties threatens, covering it with a layer or two of Reemay protects it and a portable cold frame or low hoop house shields it from the weight of snow.  Grown in cooler weather, it is less pungent and more nutty and succulent than summer-grown arugula.  It’s perfect in a salad with toasted walnuts and Pecorino Romano cheese; see Deborah Madison’s version in her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (p. 145).  Another combination of these same ingredients makes a rich pesto, perfect for whole-wheat or emmer farro flour pasta.  Use the same proportions, including oil, you’d use for basil pesto.  For seed, I use Fedco’s basic Arugula.

Mache germinates more slowly, often taking a couple of weeks, and initially it grows slowly as well.  But, once it takes off it forms a dark green rosette that is remarkably cold hardy.  I’ve actually picked it in the snow.  I mulch it mainly to keep the leaves free of dirt that can splash up during winter rains.  When the rosette has several tiers of leaves, I pick the whole plant, separate the leaves, wash them and enjoy mache in winter salads by itself or mixed with roasted root vegetables or julienned raw celery root.  It has an earthy, mineral flavor with undertones of mint and, like most hardy greens, a thicker, more succulent texture than summer greens.  People who have never eaten it before are astonished by how good it is.  The variety I grow most often is Vit but I also like Verte de Cambrai and Large-Leaf Round.

Here’s a column I wrote a few years ago about planting and protecting greens for winter use:

As the cold-hardy greens grow in my garden, I’ll post photos and suggest more ways prepare them for the table.