Now we've passed the shortest day, and the light is starting to steal back into the days, I always expect the weather to get better. But actually winter is just settling in, bringing with it an insatiable appetite for comfort food.
It's kind of lucky that the foods we feel like eating at this time of year - creamy mashes and rich vegetable soups, hearty stews and pies chunky with winter veges - are in sync with winter's harvests, but gradually that dreaded feeling of stodginess starts to take hold. Without the light, fresh, clean tastes that are so abundant over summer you can almost feel your body turning grey like the weather.
It's easy to discount the idea of salads over the winter, as more often than not you want food that will warm you up, not cool you down, but the fresh crunch of a slaw or a bowl of vegetables with tangy dressing freshens up your palate and outlook and can be the antidote for these cold bleary weeks.
In the interests of waste-not-want-not, if your vegetables or greens get to the end of the week looking limp and wilted don't biff them, just put them in a bowl with cold water to cover and a big handful of ice cubes. In a matter of a few hours they will come back to life, crisp and firm again. This works with vegetables such as carrot, beetroot, celery and fennel and for all green leafy vegetables and herbs except chives. The harder veges will keep crisping up in the fridge in their cold water bath for up to 24 hours and in the case of green leafy veges, just spin them to remove all the water and then store them in an airtight container to retain freshness. Make sure to dry them properly or they will blacken and rot.
For my winter salads I like to choose one or two hero vegetables as a start point and work out a complementary flavourway, such as curry powder or Moroccan spices or Asian sauces, to include in the dressing. I bulk it up with cooked grains or pulses or roasted vegetables, add nuts, seeds or sprouts for crunch and then maybe add some cheese or other protein. This mix-and-match approach means my salads are different every time, and never get boring!
Radicchio, Blue Cheese and Pine Nut Salad
This tangy salad makes the perfect partner for a rich winter braise or casserole, or to serve as a starter. The bitterness in the greens cuts through richness and also aids digestion.
Ready in 10 mins
½ fennel bulb, very thinly sliced or shaved with a mandolin or vegetable peeler
2 unpeeled apples, very thinly sliced
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4-5 radicchio leaves, torn
4 handfuls rocket or watercress leaves
150g creamy blue cheese, crumbled
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup neutral oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
juice of ½ a lemon
1 tsp light honey
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ clove garlic, crushed
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Combine fennel, apple and lemon juice in a small bowl. To make Honey Vinaigrette, shake all ingredients in a small jar. Toss dressing through radicchio and rocket or watercress in a salad bowl, then add apples, fennel and lemon juice, blue cheese and pine nuts.
Jar salads make great portable winter lunches. Use whatever grain you fancy and pop it in the bottom of the jar with your dressing so the flavours infuse, then layer up dense veg at the bottom, lighter veg and herbs near the top, cheese or protein somewhere in the middle and anything crisp or crunchy right at the top so it stays that way. To serve, tip the whole thing into a bowl, give it a toss and you're good to go.
1 tsp neutral oil
100g haloumi, sliced
2 Tbsp basil pesto
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or water
1 cup cooked barley or farro
1 small carrot, peeled and grated
1 small beetroot, peeled and grated
a handful of rocket leaves
2 Tbsp slivered almonds, toasted
chopped parsley leaves
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Heat neutral oil in a frypan and cook haloumi on both sides until golden. Remove from heat and drain on a paper towel.
Combine pesto dressing and olive oil or water in the base of a medium-large jar and stir to combine. Layer in barley or farro then carrot, beetroot and rocket. Scatter in almonds, haloumi and parsley then screw on the lid. To serve invert into a large plate or bowl and season to taste.
Power Up Bowl
Roasted veg are a great starting point for winter salads. I like to roast a big tray of root veg and pumpkin at the start of the week and then use them during the week to put together salads like this one. I've opted for a garlic and spice chia dressing here but it tastes good with a regular vinaigrette or an Indian-spiced yoghurt dressing as well. Kale boosts immunity, encourages brain health, increases energy and assists digestion.
4-5 large leaves kale, torn and scrunched
1 cup roasted pumpkin or kumara cubes
400g can butter beans or other beans, rinsed and drained
12 red grapes, halved (optional)
½ cup dried cranberries or dried cherries, coarsely chopped
¼ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
4 brazil nuts, coarsely chopped
Chia Seed Dressing
2 Tbsp each orange juice and lime juice
2 tsp white chia seeds
1 tsp miso paste
½ clove garlic, crushed to a paste with a little salt
½ tsp finely grated fresh ginger
¼ tsp each allspice and honey
To make Chia Seed Dressing, combine all ingredients in a small jar or bowl and allow to soak for 10 minutes.
Arrange kale, pumpkin or kumara and beans on a serving platter or divide between 2 plates. Top with grapes, dried cranberries or cherries, pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts. Drizzle with dressing to serve.
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95).