A Welcome Winter Salad

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Just like my actual house, my gingerbread house has started to crumble around the edges. Is it trying to tell me something? I’m holding off on calling a contractor, but I havestarted thinking about renovating my diet for the New Year.

After all of the sweets have been eaten, it will be winter salad season in my kitchen. Winter salads, as distinguished from summer salads, have plenty of crunchy, sturdy, satisfying ingredients to warm the body even if they are served cold. I buy mustard greens, cabbage, or radicchio instead of butter lettuce. I skip the hothouse tomatoes and tough green beans at this time of year in favor of root vegetables like beets or squash and winter fruits including apples, pears, blood oranges and grapefruit. Cold weather salads should contain some protein to qualify them as main courses. They also benefit from some richness in the form of toasted nuts, seeds, and/or crumbled cheese.

I took it as a sign that the salads I ate recently at the Shinn Estate and Lieb Cellars holiday parties (being a wine club member has its privileges) contained persimmons. The ripe fruit had a rich honeyed sweetness that contrasted very well with bitter greens and buttery nuts. I vowed that 2020 was going to be my year of the persimmon.

Never having prepared or even purchased a persimmon, I did a little research before heading to the supermarket. Native to China, the persimmon was brought to Japan 1300 years ago, where it has long been a traditional food for the Japanese New Year. In Korea, persimmons are believed to cure a hangover, yet another reason to enjoy them on New Year’s Day. Persimmons have been grown in California since the 1880s. They are also imported from Spain, Israel, Chile, and South Africa and sold in U.S. markets.

There are two types of persimmons available commercially here. The deep orange Hichiya, measuring 3 to 4 inches long, has a pointy tip that makes it look like a large acorn. This variety has a high tannin content, making it extremely bitter and astringent when unripe. It must sit at room temperature, sometimes for days, before it is ready to eat. You’ll know it’s ready when it has become soft and squishy like a water balloon. Its sweet and juicy flesh can then be scooped up and eaten with a spoon, the way you’d eat a ripe avocado.

The non-astringent Fuya, which looks like a small, round, dark orange tomato, can be eaten out of hand like an apple when semi-ripe and still crunchy, or allowed to ripen at room temperature until it, too, is as soft and sweet as custard. For salads, the Fuya is the way to go. Look for unblemished fruit that is firm but slightly yielding to the touch, like a just-ripening tomato. If your fruit is rock-hard, let it sit on the countertop until it softens slightly.

At both wineries, I admired the combination of persimmons and kale. For my own salad, I added a chopped apple for tartness and crunch. To make it extra festive, I decided to sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds. Not only do they lend extra symbolism to the dish (in Greece pomegranates signify fertility and abundance and have been served forever to celebrate the New Year ), but they also add texture and sweetness.

Pomegranate molasses has a complex sweet and sour flavor that gives the dressing depth. If you don’t have any on hand, substitute 2 teaspoons of honey mixed with a teaspoon of lemon juice. For protein, I chose cooked quinoa, but lentils, drained and rinsed canned beans, or diced chicken would do just as well.

 Happy, Healthy New Year Salad

Serves 4

1 Tbsp. finely chopped shallot

1 Tbsp. Pomegranate molasses

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. cider vinegar

Salt

Ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 cups baby kale

1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith, cored and diced

2 Fuyu persimmons, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

2 cups cooked quinoa

½ cup crumbled feta or goat cheese

¼ cup toasted and chopped walnuts

  1. In a large salad bowl, combine the shallot, mustard, cider vinegar, and pomegranate molasses, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until well-combined.
  2. Add the kale, apple, persimmons, pomegranate seeds, quinoa, goat cheese, and walnuts to the bowl and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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