Where to find winter greens for salads, soups
A while ago, I overheard a woman say, “Oh, gosh, no more salads!”
A salad wasn’t really a salad, she explained, unless it included tomatoes. It was late fall and the last of her garden tomatoes were sinking back into the ground, victims of the year’s first freeze.
I was gratified that she didn’t feel compelled to buy out-of-season tomatoes but still puzzled at her view. A walk through any farmers market in midwinter reveals an abundance of crisp greens — some ideal for salad, others best for sautéing and braising — and myriad other fresh ingredients, all at their peak.
Certain crops — most root vegetables and especially carrots, most varieties of lettuce, chards and kales, arugula, and most brassicas, such as broccoli and cauliflower — benefit from a cold snap; it adds an appealing, natural sweetness and a snap to their texture. In certain parts of Sonoma County, now is the best time to grow lettuce in your garden, especially if you have an area protected from the harshest weather.
Citrus is at a peak now, too, with Cara Cara oranges, Meyer lemons, Eureka lemons, and more offered in abundance at our farmers markets. A salad of peeled and sliced oranges drizzled with olive oil and topped with salt and black pepper is a traditional Sicilian salad and perfect during our current weather. A mix of citrus, each segment removed from its membrane, drizzled with olive oil and topped with chilled Dungeness crab, is one of the sweetest pleasures of the season.
Armstrong Valley Farm, which attends the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market at the Luther Burbank Center and the Sebastopol Farmers Market, has marble-sized potatoes, carrots smaller than the first joint of your little finger, and onions not much bigger than a thumb. They can be tossed in olive oil, roasted in the oven until tender, and then dressed with a simple parsley vinaigrette for a warm or chilled winter salad.
The best green salads are often the simplest, such as this one, which is as basic as you can get, though the black pepper is considered unnecessary among cooks who like to keep things traditional.
Because there are so few ingredients, it is essential that they be of the highest quality. When it comes to lettuces, that means picking them from your own garden or getting them at your local farmers market or farm stand.
The Simplest Green Salad
Serves 2, easily doubled
3 large handfuls very fresh leafy lettuces or other salad greens, in bite-sized pieces
— Flake salt
3-4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
— Juice of ½ lemon or 1 teaspoon best-quality vinegar of choice
— Black pepper in a mill
Put the greens into a large bowl, sprinkle lightly with salt and toss gently.
Drizzle the olive oil over the greens and toss again. Add the acid and several turns of black pepper, toss a time or two, and enjoy right away.
Variations Add a handful of fresh herbs to the greens before adding the salt. Just before serving, scatter several curls of cheese over the dressed greens. Cut about a quarter of a small red onion into very thin slices and add to the greens before adding salt. Cut half an avocado into thin diagonal slices and add them to the salad after dressing with olive oil; use lime juice as the acid.