A hearty main dish salad lifts my spirits every time. Just the idea of a salad conjures spring weather and crisp, lighter fare.
Salads don’t require much planning beyond a good vinaigrette; you can use whatever fresh ingredients you have on hand. The sheet-pan craze has sparked a whole new range of salad options because oven roasting is the best way to dispatch winter-weary vegetables. Their juices concentrate as they cook, becoming mellow and tender, while their edges darken and crisp. Sweet potatoes are great candidates for this technique and there are still plenty of local sweet spuds in our co-ops and late winter farmers markets.
Here are a few tips for sheet-pan roasting sweet potatoes (or just about any sturdy vegetable such as carrots, beets, potatoes, celeriac and parsnips).
• Preheat the sheet pan as you preheat the oven to about 400 to 425 degrees so that the vegetables sizzle as soon as they hit the pan.
• Don’t bother lining the pan with parchment; it’s the hot metal that helps to caramelize and crisp those edges to fingerpicking perfection. If you don’t like the mess, line the sheet pans with aluminum foil.
• Cut the ingredients the same size so they cook at the same rate. And give them space in the pan so that they don’t touch. When overcrowded, they steam instead of turning that deep, tasty brown.
• Experiment with different oils to coat the vegetables before roasting — try hazelnut oil, coconut oil, olive oil, bacon fat, ghee.
• Once the vegetables are roasted, add the other ingredients directly to the pan and toss them with a light vinaigrette. (There’s really no reason to mess up a bowl.) Cooked beans and grains work nicely as the heat from the pan helps meld all of the flavors together. (If you’re adding cheese, let the pan cool first or it will melt and make a mess.)
This salad showcases the sheet-pan technique; feel free to vary the vegetables depending on what you have in the crisper.
In this recipe, cooked white beans add an earthy note and creamy texture to the dense, lush roasted sweet potatoes. Cooked farro or barley would work nicely, too. No need to adhere precisely to this recipe — it’s really a loose formula for making an easy dinner or satisfying side.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.