Shredded salads

by Ari LeVaux

ating local in summertime is easy. Anyone can go to the farmers market, or choose a salad made with local greens off a restaurant menu. It’s what you eat in the winter that separates the talk-walkers from the wannabes.

The hardest part of eating local in winter isn’t finding enough to eat, because there’s plenty. What’s more difficult is giving up foods that are locally sourceable only in summer, and salad is the poster child of such fleeting meals. Some folks can’t live without ripe tomatoes. Others need their lettuce. But if you can hurdle these hang-ups, a bounty of local winter salads can be yours.

I was introduced to winter salad in Siberia, where eating local year-round is not only a fact of life, but one of life’s joys. While Siberia has a reputation as sub-prime real estate, I wonder if this isn’t just a smoke-screen to keep away the land speculators. It’s a beautiful landscape, with large tracts of butterfly-infested forest and clean rivers full of fish. But as I rode the train from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, to Irkutsk, Siberia, what struck me the most were the picturesque villages whizzing by my window, in which nearly every home had a greenhouse attached.

During my travels in the Siberian countryside I was served all kinds of preserved delicacies from jars, including pickled mushrooms, wild berry jam and ginseng vodka. I was also initiated into the Siberian custom of putting mayo – a fresh winter staple as long as the chickens are laying – on everything. And I learned that Siberians look forward to retirement so they can spend more time in the garden growing food for their families.

One evening after a cold afternoon in the mountains above Lake Baikal, in a house with an attached greenhouse, I had my first taste of winter salad. After a warm-up, literally, of beef broth, we feasted on fried trout and a winter salad of shredded carrots and shredded garlic.

It wasn’t the most complex salad, but it suggested possibilities, and I came home with some ideas. While local leaves are hard to come by in winter, save cabbage and

frozen greens, root crops like carrots, turnip, parsnip, beet, garlic and onions abound. Shredding the roots gives them a leaf-like softness and increases the surface area, allowing more contact with the dressing. These shredded raw roots provide the base for a salad in which almost anything goes.

Last summer we had a bumper crop of tomatoes, and put away quite a few by sun-drying them (in less sunny climates, a dehydrator works just as well). If the tomatoes are completely dry and crispy, they store fine in sealed plastic bags. If you leave them a bit chewy, keep them in the freezer. I like to crumble sun-dried tomatoes on top of shredded roots tossed in vinaigrette, and then grate some shavings from a hard local goat cheese on top.

Presented as such, my sun-dried tomatoes are every bit as satisfying as ripe juicy ones in summer – which can’t be said about the albino cardboard winter imposters imported from the southern hemisphere.

Many people have window boxes or greenhouses that allow them to grow limited amounts of spinach or salad greens during the winter. If you’re so lucky, then tossing a handful of these wintergreens into your root-based salad adds some nice leafy diversity.

Another option for fresh, local wintergreens is sprouts, which can be grown from many of the seeds available in the bulk section of your local store. Wheat, beans, mustard seeds, lentils, sunflower seeds and peas can all be easily sprouted at home. It’s an inexpensive way to provide nutrient-rich fodder for your winter salads.

To make sprouts, soak 1 tablespoon of seeds or 1/3 cup of beans in a quart of tepid water overnight. This is the only time sprout seeds should actually soak, and they’ll fer

ment if they aren’t completely drained. The next day, rinse the seeds thoroughly in tepid water and drain. Place in a quart jar covered with a dampened washcloth that’s fastened with a rubber band, and store in the dark. Rinse the seeds or beans twice each day, making sure excess moisture is drained off each time. Wheat berries are ready in two days; mung beans and lentils in three days. Alfalfa sprouts take five.

If you don’t have the patience to sprout seeds, you can cook them. Wheat berries can be cooked like rice until soft. Beans, like pintos, are a bit trickier if you want them soft but not soggy. Rinse a pound in cool water, removing any debris and shriveled specimens, then soak 2 to 6 hours. With the beans covered by at least an inch of water, cook on high heat for five minutes and then reduce to a simmer. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, one chopped clove of garlic and a chopped medium onion. Cook, partially covered, until the beans are soft, about 1 to 1½ hours. Then drain, cool and add to your salad.

I’m not going to micro-manage you with exact salad recipes. You know what you like to eat and what you have, so shred and embellish accordingly. Unlike actual cooking, there’s no particular salad alchemy requiring specific proportions. But to get you started I’ll give you my vinaigrette recipe: three parts olive oil, one part apple cider vinegar, one part balsamic, and a splash of soy sauce.

Despite the plethora of winter salad options, many will still wish for a little romaine in their salad bowls. But skipping the imported leaves gives you something to look forward to in summer time. And if rooty salads like this can help nourish Siberians through their infamous winter, they should be enough for you. •



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