Winter salads can't rely on ripe tomatoes and delicate butter lettuce to make them shine. Instead hearty greens, salty cheese, dried fruit, and crunchy nuts are the secret weapons that will make winter salads delicious. Use the ideas below as a spring board to create your own perfect winter salad or go ahead and use one of the recipes mentioned below.
Avoid the wilted lettuces and mesclun mixes flown in from far-flung reaches of the globe. Grab the hearty greens, the crunchy chicories, or the crisp cabbages that flourish in winter instead. Many greens you may be used to cooking—chard and dino kale in particular—are perfectly delicious raw. This fresh and easy Kale Salad is a prime example. Buy small-leafed versions when you can find them, and cut the leaves into bite-size pieces or, even better, ribbon-like shreds as in this Red Cabbage Slaw.
2. Add a Hit of Salt
Heart greens and chicories can handle a lot of flavor, including plenty of salt if you're so inclined. Feta, cojita, and blue cheeses are all great matches for winter salads—just crumble them to taste (this Radicchio Blue Cheese Hazelnut Salad shows the power of cheese perfectly). Olives—either whole pitted, or pitted and chopped—are also good bets. You can even whirl pitted olives right into the dressing as in this Radicchio Salad with Green Olive Dressing.
3. Toss In Something Crunchy
Hearty greens and chicories have a lot of body and texture of their own, so feel free to add some serious crunch to the proceedings. Nuts, croutons, slices of radish, pieces of fennel, slim coins of carrots—anything that will work your teeth and jaws just a little bit. Both Endive Walnut Salad and Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Mints Salad show the power of crunch in a winter salad.
4. Don't Forget Something Sweet
The bitter edge underneath greens and chicories can benefit from a little bit of sweetness. Roasted beets are good to use, as are winter fruits like pears, oranges, kumquats or dates. Dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, or blueberries add texture and sweetness. Great starting points are Pear Fennel Walnut Salad, Endive Kumquat Salad, or Fennel Orange Olive Salad.
5. Ditch the Leaves Entirely
Like a Caprese Salad or Marinated Green Bean Salad, even the best summer salads don't always involve leaves. Some of the best possible winter salads don't involve greens of any sort. Roasted beet salads, Celery Red Onion Salad, Celery Root Salad, or Lemony Lentil Salad are shining stars without a leaf in sight.