Following a season of gravy, long-cooked meats and so many desserts, I need salad. It might be a salad that sings with crispy cabbages and apples. Or a plate full of citrus with cured olives and an anchovy-laced dressing. There’s no rational reason a blizzard makes me yearn for the simplicity of grilled radicchio doused in fresh lemon juice and the very best olive oil. It is all I want to eat.
Waldorf salad was the standby winter side salad when I was growing up. I’ve always appreciated the textural charm of apples, walnuts and dried fruit. The celery is critical for crunch. A mayonnaise dressing, lightened with lemon juice, delivers zing. Yet, I want more variety in the fruit, some bite to balance the sweet, and a more attractive presentation. I want to include persimmons for the glorious color and tropical sweetness. Asian pear delivers a refreshing burst of crispness. With the tartness of ruby red grapefruit, the snap of radishes and salty creamy feta, the salad morphs into a more modern interpretation. Here is a salad to have on repeat all winter long.
Look for bright orange Fuyu persimmons, shaped like a flattened sphere. Once the flesh yields when gently squeezed, the Fuyu delivers a sweet, tropical flavor, while remaining sliceable. This is my persimmon choice for salads, savory sauces and quick breads.
The other persimmon, the vase-shaped deep coral Hachiya, looks like an acorn without the cap. If tasted too soon, the astringency is positively puckery. It ripens into a custardy, creamy miracle, and delivers a glorious winter fruit moment. Slice off the top and dip a spoon right in. It’s smooth and rich and a beautiful color. Hachiya is my choice for custards, pies and puddings.
Citrus is only welcome if it is free of bitter pith. With a sharp knife, remove the top and bottom of the grapefruit to create a flat base and slice down, removing the peel in a few quick vertical strokes. Meticulously remove any remaining white pith. Cut between the membranes to release the segments, freeing them from the core. If grapefruit isn’t your thing, substitute blood orange or Cara Cara orange.
The radishes should be sliced paper-thin so they deliver a bite and not a wallop. Try black radish, breakfast radish or round red radishes. Watermelon radishes look fantastic, with their Lilly Pulitzer bright pink and green, but quarter the slices so their bulky circumference doesn’t overwhelm.
This modern Waldorf is a salad of greens and fruit with a light dressing. On the east coast, our biggest hurdle in winter is always lettuce. (Hello, California, you of the Little Gem lettuce. We all yearn for it.) Bibb or leaf lettuce, grown in hothouses or shipped from faraway states, can lack the delicate flavor of tender greens grown in warmer months. Sturdy bitter greens like endive and escarole stand up to winter, but a sweet and tender lettuce is more challenged in the freezing and defrosting weather cycle. Mache, or lamb’s lettuce, is one of the few that thrives in cold weather gardens, with leaves that grow in charming rosettes.
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I see mache in the grocery store for only a month or so each winter, so keep your eyes open. Even better, if you have a garden bed or a large planter that sits in the sun, scatter a few seeds on a warm day for a winter’s worth of vegetal greens; it’s remarkably easy to grow, and plucking a few rosettes at a time means the harvest can last throughout the cold months. If there’s no mache available, tender, young spinach will stand in.
When carrying this salad to a get-together, I like to compose it on the platter with a pillowy bed of mache and slices of fruit in pretty fans around the platter, using the grapefruit and the persimmon as counterpoints of bright color between the pale apple and pear. Toast the walnuts: They’ll taste so much better. Drizzle the dressing over the top, but not too much. Place a pitcher of the remaining dressing alongside the salad for those who want more.
Welcome at any winter gathering, whether brunch or game day, whether bringing it along or on the sideboard when you’re hosting, a colorful salad is a beautiful way to battle winter.
MODERN WALDORF SALAD WITH PERSIMMON AND ASIAN PEAR
Bright, textural, satisfying and beautiful, here’s a colorful, composed salad for your next cold-weather gathering. Let the persimmons ripen until soft but not squishy. Use crisp apples with a bright red peel. If Asian pears are unavailable, substitute a ripe but still firm Bosc pear. Mache, also known as “lamb’s lettuce,” is a winter salad green, vegetal and tender. If mayonnaise is a no-go in your household, swap in full-fat yogurt for a similar dressing.
MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be shaken together 1 day ahead. The nuts can be toasted up to 2 days ahead. Otherwise, the ingredients should be cut up and served within a couple of hours, or the fruit will brown.
1/2 cup mayonnaise or full-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups (2 ounces) mache or torn baby spinach leaves
2 Pink Lady or Fuji apples, cored, halved and sliced 1/8-inch thick
2 Asian pears, cored, halved and sliced 1/8-inch thick
4 Fuyu persimmons, each cut into 8 wedges
2 ruby red grapefruit, peeled, seeded and sectioned
6 red radishes, thinly sliced
4 stalks celery, diced
1/4 cup (1 ounce) feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) pomegranate arils
1/2 cup (2 ounces) toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
In a small jar with a lid, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and black pepper. Cover and shake until combined.
Place the mache or spinach on a large, wide platter. Arrange the apple, pear, persimmon, grapefruit, radishes and celery on top of the mache. Crumble the feta over the salad and scatter with the pomegranate arils.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad (or serve it on the side) and top with the toasted walnuts. Serve right away.
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Nutrition | Per serving: 250 calories, 3 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 11 g sugar
Source: Cathy Barrow