Although we may think of the winter solstice as the darkest day of the year, it’s these next few weeks that truly plumb the depths.
Personally, I cannot wait for that moment in the sky on Dec. 21 when the sun is as low as it can go, marking the return — albeit, at a turtle’s pace — of the light. In the meantime, I channel the spirit of a hibernating bear and eat like it’s the end of days (which astronomically, it is, kinda), distracting myself with holiday cookies and loaf cakes, oversized trays of mac and cheese and various forms of rich, oozy goodness. There will be eggnog and maybe even a Yule log.
At some point in December, the practical part of my brain jostles me awake from my bear nap and reminds me to make room for vegetable matter. With every passing year, I remember how much I love a winter salad, one that combines the hardy (and hearty) leaves of the chicory family with the bright, tangy sweetness of citrus fruit. Unlike the tender lettuces of warmer months, chicories, which include radicchio, escarole and frisée, to name a few, are sturdy and decisively peppery, and require a brief moment of tenderizing attention. Simply put, they don’t go down as easy as a piece of butter lettuce.
The arrival of grapefruit, mandarins and their extended citrus relatives from Florida, California and Texas, is perfect timing. The chicories need taming, and we humans living in a pandemic need the immune-boosting support of citrus fruit, most notably in the form of Vitamin C. What’s more, eating something kissed by the sun is like light therapy, which inevitably brings me out of my seasonal darkness, and maybe it will for you, too.
With the recipes that follow, feel free to mix and match both chicories and citrus, including those that are not listed. The world of citrus is vast, from blood oranges and Buddha’s hand to Cara Cara oranges and clementines, and they are all excellent salad contenders.
BROILED GRAPEFRUIT CHICORY SALAD
If the words “broiled grapefruit” take you back to the 1970s, then we are on the flashback train. I remember watching my mother slicing a grapefruit in half, sprinkling with sugar and placed under the broiler for a low-cal breakfast, the fruit wriggled loose with a serrated spoon (remember those?). This salad is a 21st-century twist on the disco-era classic.
Adapted from “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations” by Kim O’Donnel.
Makes 4 servings.
- 2 cups frisée or escarole, washed, dried and chopped finely
- Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 to 2 Ruby Red grapefruit
- 1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
- Optional but recommended garnish: 1/4 cup unsalted roasted almonds, chopped or toasted sunflower seeds
Place the greens in a large bowl and add the lemon juice, olive and salt. With your hands, toss the greens as if you were massaging it; this not only ensures even coverage of the seasonings but also helps tenderize the greens. Taste and add more lemon juice, olive oil or salt as needed. Let the greens sit and marinate while you prepare the grapefruit.
Trim about 1/4-inch of one end of the grapefruit so it has a flat edge. Do not remove the skin from the rest of the fruit. Slice into rounds about 1/2-inch thick. Estimate 1 to 2 rounds per serving.
Preheat the oven to the broil setting and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Arrange the grapefruit in a single layer on the prepared pan. Sprinkle at least 1/2 teaspoon over each grapefruit round. Place under the broiler for 5 minutes.
For a more composed dish, place about 1/2 cup salad atop each grapefruit round, which will require a knife to cut. Alternatively, slice rounds in half or in quarters and add to the salad.
Garnish with almonds or sunflower seeds, if using.
CHICORY CITRUSY CAESAR
The amounts for escarole and radicchio are suggested; If you can’t find both, use arugula or celery leaves to make up for the deficit. For the bitter greens-wary, I promise that the sweet tang of the citrus mellows the punch. If you do not share my love for anchovies, swap them out for capers, which make for a respectably briny alternative.
Adapted from “PNW Veg” by Kim O’Donnel.
Makes 4 servings.
- 1 whole clove garlic, peeled
- 2 anchovies or 1 teaspoon capers, rinsed
- Fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 cups escarole, washed, dried and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 to 2 cups radicchio, washed, dried and cut into 2-inch pieces
- Optional: 1 cup arugula or 1 cup celery leaves
- 1/2 to 1 cup mandarin orange segments, such as clementine or satsuma, or thinly sliced kumquats
- Optional garnish: 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino
- Ground black pepper
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic, capers (or anchovies) and a few pinches of salt. (Plan B: Smash and smear with flat side of a wide-edged knife.)
Place in an 8-ounce jar and add the mustard and 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Cover with a lid and screw tight, then shake like crazy. The dressing should be fairly puckery; if not, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Loosen the lid to uncover and add the oil. Replace the lid and shake again.
In a large bowl, place all of the greens and citrus. Just before serving, shake the dressing jar and gradually drizzle on top, turning with tongs or salad forks to coat. Add just enough to make the salad glisten. Garnish with cheese if using and sprinkle with black pepper. Taste before adding more salt, as the capers, anchovies and cheese are naturally salty.