PHOTOGRAPHED BY KRISTIN TEIG
Salad is all too often an afterthought at the dinner table. It’s the sidekick to that roast chicken or those takeout pizzas. Why not let it take center stage?
As the weather cools and we find ourselves tucking into richer, heavier fare, turning to salad is a surprising move that I guarantee can be no less satisfying. I don’t mean a cold, crisp bowl of lettuce. Instead, look to warm salads that take advantage of seasonal vegetables such as mushrooms, winter squash, cauliflower, and cabbage, and even fruit such as dates and apples. My newest cookbook, Salad Seasons, celebrates salads in unconventional, yet easy-to-execute ways. Serve up these cozy autumnal salads family-style, and you’ll have a whole new kind of dinner party to indulge in this season.
I ate a lot of stuffed portobello mushrooms during my days as a vegetarian. I was in college and single—portobellos were cheap and perfectly portioned for one. The caps are endlessly versatile. Stuff them with cheese, beans, sautéed greens, cooked grains, roasted vegetables, or even mashed squash or potatoes. Of all the iterations I’ve worked my way through, though, these French onion soup–inspired stuffed mushrooms win first prize. An abundance of jammy caramelized onions is loaded into the portobello caps before they’re topped with nutty Gruyère cheese and baked. The results are so umami-packed, they beg to be served atop a simple, vinaigrette- dressed salad for balance. A smattering of toasted breadcrumbs mimics the crispy bits of the cozy, classic soup.
This unconventional salad isn’t shy. Smashed baby potatoes soak up the spicy juices from Mexican chorizo as they roast together harmoniously on a sheet pan. The two become a dinner salad once they’re tossed with shredded lettuce and scallions, drizzled with a puckering lime vinaigrette, and finished with plenty of salty cheese crumbles.
Queso fresco is a semisoft Mexican cheese that’s similar to feta in milky-tangy flavor and crumbly texture. It can be found in rounds in the cheese section of most grocery stores; if you can’t find it, a mild feta can be substituted.
Dates are so deeply sweet and candy-like, they’re practically dessert all on their own. My husband, however, would never buy into this truth. So, I duped him by bringing caramel cream and cookies to the party—the latter almost always does the trick. This is a luxurious way to end a meal on a cold winter night. But don’t be too fooled: The soft, chewy dates are the star here, though piling them onto a little creamy decadence absolutely doesn’t hurt.
Here’s your permission to eat a whole wheel of cheese for dinner. Baked bloomy-rind cheeses such as Brie and Camembert are a retro appetizer that never really went out of style, especially around the holidays. But why reserve all that gooey luxury for festivities when you can turn it into a cozy winter meal? The key is to bring a little balance to the situation. Here, it’s a warm red cabbage slaw. In keeping with the retro vibes, the cheese is piled with sun-dried tomatoes that are tossed with honey, balsamic, and herbs before it’s baked. Serve the melty wheel in the center of a platter surrounded by the slaw, and let everyone scoop up generous portions of both.
While a standard wheel of Brie will do just fine, I do think this salad deserves special treatment, given that it’s a bit indulgent. Harbison is a bloomy-rind cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont that I am mildly obsessed with. It’s shamelessly creamy, a bit stinky (in a good way), and both sweet and vegetal, making it much more complex than your average grocery store wheel. Look for it at your local specialty cheese shop, Whole Foods, or on the Jasper Hill website, and treat yourself to a mixed box of cheeses.
When we think of cooking winter squash, our minds often go straight to incorporating sweet ingredients like brown sugar or cinnamon. Here, crispy crumbled salami chips, nutty aged Gouda, and earthy fried sage prove squash can play just as well with salty, savory flavors. Though, to be sure, a little honey is snuck in for balance. This is a hearty salad that will keep your taste buds on their toes. Oh, and a friendly reminder that you can absolutely eat the squash skin! It gets nice and tender in the oven but holds on to a bit of its chew, which lends texture to every mouthful.