Doesn’t January feel link kind of a limbo? When all of the holidays end, I am usually left with contrasting emotions; On one side I am just fed up with everything about holidays, from the food to the laziness of the vacations. I feel bloated and full, no matter how much I tried to remain sane in my eating. On the other hand I feel nostalgic and kinda sad that the holidays are gone.
The first thing however that gets me quickly back on the track is switching to a healthy and light diet. The next couple of months are going to be super busy and I should absolutely not waste time. There are many projects I’m involved with (the most important one: my master’s thesis! Yes, I’m still studying but I swear I’ll quit after this one!) and some are directly or indirectly connected to this blog. All of them in one way or another are about food. The thesis in particular is all about Lab Noon, but we’ll get to that later. Truth be told, there’s a lot of new stuff to try and experiment and I’m filled with that excitement of creating something new and being scared shitless of not being able to meet deadlines and other insecurities. My first step; I (desperately) need to get organized.
I started getting organized first in my eating habits. Started with some detox smoothies and went back to one sure type of dish I know I make very well, tasty, filling and nutritious; Salads. There’s no secret about it, I combine everything. Keeping in mind to insert enough proteins, carbs and fiber and to keep the dressing balanced with acidity and fat. My secret ingredients for more energy and substance are nuts and seeds. About 90% of times my salads are vegetarian but sometimes I might add some smoked salmon, tuna or chicken breast too. The problem with salads however is that they’re, er…, cold! Specially on chilly winter days. I suffer a lot from the cold. I often have chilled fingers and toes no matter how many layers of clothes I’m wearing and how boiling the heater is. So sometimes it becomes quite a task to get the veggies from the cold fridge and cut them, let alone eating them cold. That’s when, er, –this might sound a little crazy– I cook my salads! And not only typical warm salads with lentils or other legumes. Sometimes I even cook the poor lettuce, for just a minute or two.
Basic Tips for a Delicious & Nutritious Salad
Stick to seasonal produce. Do you really want a tasty salad in the middle of winter? Don’t put tomatoes in it! Don’t use fresh tomatoes in any dish in the winter. Think different types of cabbage, spinach and baby spinach, all types of chicories, Brussels sprout, kale, cauliflower, beets and fennels. You can/should cook slightly most of these veggies but not necessarily. Just remember to take off the stalk off the kale leaves and shred the leaves thinly. Try boiled/roasted potatoes with broccoli, peas, sun-dried tomatoes, beans and onion.
Got nuts. Different types of nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecan, pine nuts etc not only add a good sum of energy, vitamins and minerals that are necessary for you health (specially if you consume little or no animal protein), but they also bring a wonderful, crunchy texture to your salad. They’re best if you toast them for a minute or two so that they can bring out their fragrance and essential oils. Don’t forget about seeds either, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, sesame, poppy seeds, you name it. Try radicchio, blue cheese, celery, walnuts and lentils with balsamic vinegar.
Fruit is your friend. I absolutely love the acidic, sweet flavor of a fruit in a savory dish, specially a fresh salad. It brings out the flavor of salty or bitter ingredients. They match beautifully with cheese or bitter winter roots such as radishes. Go beyond ordinary, think of pears and blue cheese, orange and black olives, mandarine, persimmon with salmon, apples with radishes, pomegranate with kale. The combinations are infinite. Try arugula salad, roasted turnips, chopped chestnuts and pieces of Japanese persimmon with shavings of parmesan cheese.
Satisfy your sweet tooth. As I said, I love the sweetness in a savory dish. Even sweeter than fruit are the dried fruit. The one I love? raisins! As the classic coleslaw, raisins are beautiful in almost in kinda of salad, maybe except for the ones containing fish. Dried apricots are also great for a sweet touch in a salad. I use dry mulled berries and dry pine apple too. Try, shredded red cabbage, oranges, raisins, almonds and hard cheese dressed only with olive oil.
Break Bread. Oh the good company that bread is to a salad! You can make croutons, you can break flat bread upon a salad to give it crunchy texture or you can simply eat your salad with slices of a good (whole grain and dark?) bread, even using it like a cutlery to help your fork. It’s something I’ve learned in Italy, when you have good extra virgin olive oil in your salad, you must it with bread. Try cutting your old bread, splash a little bit of water on it, then cook it in an oiled pan with garlic powder and sea salt and add to your salad.
Dress it up. Most salads are uneatable without their dressings. Use good cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Do not exaggerate with your acid. Remember this Jamie Oliver’s rule of thumb of 3 parts fat, 1 part acid. Try different vinegars ( balsamic, red wine, white wine, sherry, apple cider etc), lemon juice and the juice of other citrus fruits. If you already have an acidic element in your salad such as fruit, skip the acidic part in the dressing. One of my personal favorite dressings specially when there’s cheese in the salad is the balsamic cream which comes in different flavors and turns almost any dish to a luxurious marvel. From cheese to meat, from strawberries to even ice cream. A Dijon mustard also makes a lot of difference. I am not a fan of mayonnaise though. I prefer using plain white yoghurt, lemon juice and seasonings for a similar effect. It’s great with potatoes salads and other ones with meaty proteins.
Some winter salads from around the internet that have inspired me:
– This colorful crunchy salad with red cabbage and apples with a special dressing by Noghl-e Mey‘s Mahroo, my good friend.
– This intriguing vegan Cesar salad with roasted chickpeas and almonds by Edible Perspective.
– This so-my-type-of-dish Autumn salad with figs, prosciutto and blue cheese by From the Kitchen.
– This shiny and bright Fennel-Roasted Carrot + Shallot Salad with Shaved Apples by Dolly and Oatmeal.
– And last but not least, the long list of beautiful winter salads on Food52 among which I have particularly enjoyed this Roasted Grape and Butternut Squash Salad with Kale and Parmesan.
My Warm Winter Salad or It is too dry to be a soup!
My warm winter salad at a certain point could happily become a soup. After all, I make a classic sauté with onions, carrot and celery for the chick peas. (I used canned ones, but you could totally cook your soaked-over-night dry chickpeas together with this sauté.) I even added a little bit of white wine for extra tanginess. I like that bold rich flavors in salad. I am so lucky I had received hand-picked dried mushrooms from Finland that once soaked in hot water for half an hour, bring an earthy flavor to any dish, be it a salad or a soup. And when the chickpeas are flavored I place the spinach on top, covering with the lid and letting it soften by the steam. Maybe the only proper salad ingredient is the lemon juice marinated beets. But I like it that way. I need to get organized in many fronts of my life, but I’d like to stay messy in my recipes. Recipes where you’re free to experiment, to add or to omit and to make tasty food that’s good for you, without having to fit it in a name, a category or a nationality.
- 1 cup fresh spinach
- 1/2 small carrot, finely cubed
- 1/4 onion, finely chopped
- 4 cm of celery stalk, finely chopped
- 100 canned, drained chickpeas (or 2 tbsp of dry chickpeas, soaked over night)*
- 2 tbsp dry mushrooms
- 1 small beetroot, thinly sliced
- juice of a half a lemon
- 1/3 cup white wine**
- 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- a handful of raw almonds
- coarse sea salt
- black pepper to taste
- Soak the mushrooms in hot water for about 20-30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Never use the soaking water of mushrooms as it may contain the earth and other substances that may not be safe to eat.
- Marinate the slices of beetroot in lemon juice and salt and let it rest.
- Heat 1/2 tbsp of e.v olive oil and add the finely chopped onion, carrot and celery. Sauté for about 5 minutes until the onions become soft. Add the drained chickpeas and cook for about 5 minutes and the add the wine and let it simmer. (If using dry soaked chickpeas remember to season with salt. Canned chickpeas are already salted.)
- Chop the almonds roughly and toast them in pan. (Or use them raw if you prefer.)
- When the wine has evaporated thoroughly, add the mushrooms to the chickpeas. Place the spinach leaves gently on top of chickpeas and mushrooms WITHOUT stirring, cover with the lid and lower the flame. The spinach leaves should soften with the steam.
- To serve, first start by placing the spinach leaves on the plate, season with a little salt & pepper. then layer with chickpeas and mushroom mix and the marinated beets. Top with the toasted almonds. Dress with the rest of the e.v. olive oil, a little lemon juice, salt & pepper.
- Serve with whole grain rye bread.
- *If you're cooking dry chickpeas add the cooking time of chickpeas to the whole cooking time.
- **If you don't want to use wine you can simply use water and lemon juice later.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.