For most of us, wintertime is about hearty flavours, rugging up and maybe enjoying a long, slow-cooked cut of meat. But just because we’re looking for comfort and warmth doesn’t mean that we have to sideline the salads. Indeed, the idea of a salad doesn’t necessarily have to equate to cool and snappy. Winter has a salad patois all of its own.
“I think there are more earthy flavours in winter and you have to work with the seasonal ingredients that you’ve got,” says Mike McEnearney of Kitchen by Mike, where you might find a salad of pear, fennel, radicchio and walnut on the menu, not to mention beetroot, caviar lentils and goat’s cheese. “I like root vegetables in salad in winter. Using what’s in season is important, and citrus is in season, so I like root vegetables with marjoram and lemon. They’re flavours that are so delicious in warm or room-temperature salads.”
For the cooler months, McEnearney bulks up his salads with pulses and grains, beefing up the comfort factor. “Summer salads are for refreshing. In summer we don’t want full tummies, we don’t want too much, so they’re lighter and zingy and flashy. Winter salads are for comfortable and homely flavours.”
Claire Van Vuuren of Newtown’s Bloodwood agrees, also using pulses and seasonal ingredients to adjust for the cooler months. “I like to throw in lentils, chickpeas, legumes and beetroot,” she says, noting that they’ve just adjusted their winter vegetable salad to include Brussels sprouts and king mushrooms for the cooler days.
“I think winter salads can be very comforting. You get heavier braises and richer dishes in winter, so winter salads can pair up with that nicely. You don’t want leafy salads; you need more vegetables and there are amazing vegetables at that time of year.”
Over in Redfern, Tien Forward and the team at Nourishing Quarter are all about salads that work well the whole year round. A perennial favourite is the quinoa noodle salad with crisp tofu. The team like to work with an element of surprise, adding warm nuts, crisp ingredients and tangy sauces (with chilli or lime) to create dishes that satisfy on cold days. The team say that in winter there is an inclination for deep-fried foods, which is why the salad with tofu is so popular. Given the choice of oils and the balance with other items in the dish, a little bit of deep-fried indulgence can be justified to balance a salad that is built on layers of fresh leaves, noodles, topped with the tofu and plated up like a mountain. The secret at Nourishing Quarter is the clever use of herbs and spices to create flavours and aromas that appeal no matter the season.
“We like the idea of a salad that’s warm,” says Andrew Fazio, owner of Botannix Studio Cafe in Botany, nodding to the popularity of their smoked ocean trout salad of shaved fennel, pickled radish, watercress, toasted pine nuts and orange dressing, as well as the speckled quinoa salad of braised leek, bacon, chervil, poppy seeds and poached chicken tossed in lemon and cayenne pepper dressing.
“But we’ve also got a crunchy Asian salad on the dinner menu,” he says. “It’s cold and people still order it because it has warm toasted peanuts through it.” It’s another example of blending textures for an element of surprise.
Enjoying a salad in winter comes down to adjusting the way we think about salad. It’s not all fresh green leaves. Choosing ingredients that are seasonal and treating them in a way that responds to the need for comfort on a cold day seems to be the answer.
Find four of our favourites:
Beetroot, caviar lentils and goat's cheese salad at Kitchen by Mike
Winter vegetables at Bloodwood
Quinoa noodle salad with crunchy tofu at Nourishing Quarter