Once temperatures drop to a winter chill, iceberg and other lettuces leave me cold. I prefer salads made with more substantial and assertively flavored greens like arugula, spinach and escarole.
The comfort of chunky salads also has great appeal when the weather is brisk. Try combining raw vegetables like sweet bell peppers and whole small tomatoes with roasted ones such as sweet potatoes, carrots, asparagus and broccoli.
In winter, I also find plum tomatoes preferable to most other kinds. Their meaty flesh is always firm, and if you let them sit until they turn a rich, dark red, which takes several days, you will be rewarded with plum tomatoes that taste much better. Interestingly, doing this also means you’ll get more lycopene – a health-enhancing carotenoid that helps make tomatoes red – in every bite.
Raw onions make another good addition to winter salads, and they’re a smart choice during flu season thanks to their antibacterial benefits. Soaking slices in cold water makes raw onions more palatable, but can take an hour or more. Instead, I find that plunging them into boiling water for one minute has the same flavor-taming effect, while leaving the onions pleasantly tender-crisp.
In Lecce, a city in south-western Italy, I enjoyed an antipasto of tomato wedges and raw onions combined with capers and olives. Here, instead of the tasteless tomatoes currently available, I use my kitchen-ripened plum tomatoes, cutting them into thick rounds. A red Spanish onion provides just the right zing—a yellow one is too harsh, while a sweeter variety lacks the necessary pungency.
In Italy, capers packed in salt are as common as those pickled in vinegar. If you can find them, their sharper tang is ideal. Kalamata olives are Greek, but they add the kind of bold flavor you want to perk up a winter meal.
Winter Tomato and Onion Salad – Makes 8 (1/2 cup) servings.
2 Tbsp. small capers
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 red Spanish onion, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
4 large plum tomatoes
1 Tbsp. fresh or 1 tsp. dried oregano, optional
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 pitted Kalamata or Alphonse olives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
If using salted capers, soak them in 1/2 cup cold water for 20 minutes. Drain, rinse, and use a paper towel to pat the capers dry. If using pickled capers, just rinse and pat dry.
In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add salt and the onions. Reduce the heat and simmer until the onions are flexible but still al dente, about 1 minute. Drain in a colander, then pat dry on paper toweling and place the onions in a medium mixing bowl.
Trim off the stem and tip ends of the tomatoes, and cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, then add the tomatoes to the onions. Add the capers, oregano, if using, and olive oil. Cut the olives lengthwise into strips and add them to the salad. Using a fork, toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and set the salad aside for 20 to 30 minutes to marinate and let its flavors meld. Serve at room temperature.
Per serving: 44 calories, 4 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 3 g carbohydrate, 0 g protein, 1g dietary fiber, 308 mg sodium.
“Something Different” is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.