My younger sister constantly chides me for eating salads in winter.
“It’s cold out. You should have soup or something warming,” she scolds.
But like a glass of sparkling rosé or a dish of raspberry chocolate-chip ice cream, a bowl of fresh shredded vegetables tossed in a tangy vinaigrette is delicious any time of year. And it’s what I crave during these dreary days of midwinter. Salads bring a bright palette of colors and the taste of sunshine to the table.
No doubt some vegetables are better suited to February slaws. Forget the delicate lettuces, tender peas and vibrant shoots that come into the store weary from long days of travel and neglect. Seek out the more robust storage crops of hearty character that are equally delicious raw when shaved or sliced into matchstick-sized strips. Think carrots, fennel, celeriac, and all manner of cabbages.
There are no rules to creating these salads. The fun is in mixing and matching the tossup of ingredients with the different options for vinaigrettes. Especially in winter, bold seasonings, such as ginger, chiles and black pepper, shot through with cooling flavors of citrus or vinegar, spark life in the most mundane winter vegetable toss-ups. Here the ratio of acid to oil differs slightly from the summery norm. For these slaws, use about one part acid (citrus) to one part oil. The increased acid brightens and lightens the hefty vegetable mix.
Of all the cabbages, I prefer red heads for a winter slaw. The leaves are sturdier than the green cousins. Dressed slightly ahead of serving, the texture softens a tad and the cabbage flavor mellows a bit. This makes them a great choice for a party or to tote to a potluck.
The slightly bitter flavor of these winter salads pairs well with peppery radishes, especially those pretty watermelon or beauty heart varieties, pale green outside and vibrant magenta within. Fennel, thinly sliced, adds its anise essence to any dish. Raw beets, cut into tendrils, help ground a salad with earthy notes. Carrots with their sweetness are always a safe bet.
Winter slaws may play side dish but never second fiddle in my kitchen. They are also terrific tucked into a smoked turkey sandwich or piled on griddled bratwursts in hard rolls. When topped with leftover rotisserie chicken or cooked shrimp, served with a thick slice of crusty bread, they make dinner-worthy, winter-busting bowls of deliciousness in no time flat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.