It’s November, and snow has already fallen in parts of the country. Usually those first snowflakes have people reaching for comforting soups and stews, but some, myself included, may still yearn for lighter fare. Personally, I always want a salad, whatever the weather.
There are many interesting cool-weather salad ingredients. Pleasantly bitter greens, like endive, frisée, radicchio and their colorful chicory cousins, are lovely combined with fruit (apples, pears, citrus) and toasted walnuts. You’ll find them at them available now, at farmers’ markets and in the produce departments of most supermarkets.
But the other day, one of my favorite market stands was offering gorgeous spinach with medium-size crinkled, curly leaves. Freshly picked, this spinach had enough body to stand up to a forceful vinaigrette. You certainly can’t say that about the ubiquitous packaged baby spinach that more or less wilts on contact with dressing. I prefer the larger leaves for a chewy salad with crunch.
If you can’t find hearty spinach leaves like that, choose another kind of green with texture, such as Japanese jagged-edged mizuna, a member of the mustard family; Napa cabbage, sliced into wide ribbons; or large arugula leaves. A mix of several kinds of sturdy greens is another possibility.
I considered what kind of salad to make: Of course, there’s the classic spinach salad tossed with crisp sizzled bacon and a hot dressing made in the skillet with bacon fat and cider vinegar. I often serve a spinach salad dressed with a zippy mustard vinaigrette, chopped hard-cooked egg and shavings of Gruyère cheese or Provolone. With or without bacon, it makes a great first course or light lunch. Delicious as those may be, I craved something with a fresher feel.
On this particular day, I wanted a salad substantial enough to be a main course, and came up with this one, which takes cues from Japan. I enhanced the gingery, garlicky dressing with miso, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and splash of sake for good measure. For texture, I added chopped cucumber, thinly sliced daikon radish and edamame beans, along with a shower of sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanuts. To make it even more of a meal, I tucked in slices of baked marinated firm tofu.
The hearty, handsome salad fulfilled the urge for something green, healthy, vegetarian and light, even with a chill in the air. For that matter, though, this exceedingly satisfying spinach salad could easily be served year round.