Toss a Healthy Winter Salad

The basics for making light and tasty meals, plus three easy recipes to try

person making a salad spinach  and other vegetables in a kitchen Photo: iStock

Salad and summer are practically synonymous, but just because ripe, red tomatoes are out of season this time of year doesn’t mean you should take salads off the menu until the weather gets warmer.

“Winter salads can be delicious and nutritious,” says Amy Keating R.D., a nutritionist at Consumer Reports. “And if you choose the right ingredients, they can be just as comforting as a bowl of chili or stew.” Here’s how to make tasty meals that will warm you up without weighing you down.

5 Winter Salad Basics

Follow these tips to put together your own tasty cool-weather salad, or try one of the three warm salad recipes below.

1. The greens: You don’t actually need greens to make a salad—any combination of vegetables will do. But the ones that are in season this time of year are heartier and less likely to wilt under heat. Dark green leaves—such as arugula, cabbage, escarole, kale, or watercress—are especially nutrient-packed. But other sturdy leafy vegetables, like Belgian endive or radicchio, are nutritious, too, and are also good to add to the mix. Always wash and dry greens well before dressing them to help the salad hold its flavor.

More on Healthy Cooking

2. The protein: Sautéed or broiled chicken, lean sliced steak, or fish make a salad main course worthy. Or choose ready to eat ingredients that can be tossed with warm vegetables such as canned wild salmon, tofu, or canned beans.

3. The veggies: A mix of texture and color is key. Try combining cooked and raw vegetables. It makes the salad more interesting and the added structure helps the greens stand up longer next to warm ingredients.

4. The dressing: When your ingredients have big flavors, you don’t want something too heavy, creamy, or cheesy. A simple lemon, mustard, or red wine vinegar vinaigrette will do. Combine 1 part acid (lemon or vinegar) to 3 parts oil—or use a 1:2 ratio if you like it tangy. To accentuate the flavors in the salad, whisk pan juices from cooked chicken, steak, or sautéed vegetables into the dressing.

5. The extras: Nuts, dried fruit, and herbs punch up any salad. Walnuts and pecans, dates and currants, or a pinch of finely chopped rosemary work especially well with winter salads. Fresh or roasted apples and pears add a nice touch of sweetness. For an even heartier dish, you can add cooked whole grains.

Steak Salad With Caramelized Shallots and Mushrooms

Steak Mushroom Salad

Photo: James Worrell Photo: James Worrell

1 pound flank steak
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
6 ounces shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced ¼-inch thick
½ cup dry red wine
1 head escarole (1 pound), washed, outer leaves discarded and inner leaves torn into 1-inch pieces

Place the steak in a large bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, garlic, and 1½ teaspoon fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried. Season with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Cook the steaks, turning once, until an instant read thermometer reads 145°F, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let stand.

3. Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add the shallots and mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until golden and soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl.

4. Pour the wine and remaining vinegar into pan; boil over high heat, scraping up browned bits in pan, until reduced to ½ cup, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour into a bowl; whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and oregano. Slice the meat into bite-size pieces and pour the excess juice into vinaigrette.

5. In a large bowl, combine the escarole, mushroom mixture, and ⅔ of the vinaigrette. Divide among serving plates. Top each plate with steak. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the meat and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutrition information per serving: 400 calories, 21 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 18 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 6 g sugars (includes 0 g added sugars), 30 g protein, 350 mg sodium

Lentil Salad With Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts

Lentil Beet Goat Cheese Salad

Photo: James Worrell Photo: James Worrell

3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 pound fresh beets, scrubbed (about 4 medium-sized beets)
1 cup French green lentils or regular green or brown lentils
3 heads Belgian endive, washed, outer leaves discarded
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
6 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

2. In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, ⅛ teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil until completely incorporated. Whisk in the thyme; set aside.

3. Wrap the beets tightly in foil; place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel and cube.

4. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water (⅛ teaspoon salt) to a boil. Add the lentils and simmer until tender, 20 to 30 minutes; drain well.

5. Tear the endive into a large bowl. Add the warm lentils, beets, and vinaigrette, and gently toss to coat. Divide the mixture among four plates. Top each salad with the cheese and nuts; serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutrition information per serving: 530 calories, 34 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 41 g carbs, 12 g fiber, 9 g sugars (includes 0 g added sugars), 19 g protein, 480 mg sodium

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad With Balsamic-Glazed Chicken

Root Vegetable Salad

Photo: James Worrell Photo: James Worrell

2 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½-inch-thick strips
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary or ⅓ teaspoon dried
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound parsnips (about 4-6 small ones), peeled and cubed
½ pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ pound russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon honey
5 ounces arugula, thick stems removed
1 ounce shaved Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

2. In a bowl, combine the chicken, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, garlic, rosemary, and ⅛ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Arrange the parsnips, sweet potatoes, and russet potatoes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and season with ⅛ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast, tossing occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Let stand while you prepare the chicken.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

5. Add 5 tablespoons vinegar and the honey to the pan. Cook over high heat, stirring up browned bits, until the vinegar is reduced by about half, 2 to 3 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan and cook, stirring, until well glazed, about 1 minute.

6. Place the arugula and roasted vegetables in a large bowl. Whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 2 tablespoons vinegar. Pour over the greens and toss to coat.

7. Arrange the vegetables on individual serving plates. Top with the warm chicken pieces and shaved Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Nutrition information per serving: 480 calories, 19 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 45 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 14 g sugars (includes 1 g added sugars), 32 g protein, 350 mg sodium