So often when we talk about salads, we apologize. If we bring a salad to a potluck, we play down our contribution. If we serve salad for dinner, we regret that it isn’t more substantial. If a co-worker asks what we ate for lunch and the answer is leafy, green and dressed with vinaigrette, we say, “Oh, just a salad.”
We take salads for granted, as cooks and as eaters. We undervalue them for their potential for sustenance and satiation, but also for the care they require in the making, a trend no doubt encouraged by our dependence on bottled dressings and pre-prepped greens.
We can do better. So with dropping temperatures, I’m adding ever more salads to the menu, wielding the season’s frost-sweetened, intensely flavoured greens — collards, cabbage, mustards, chicories and, yes, kale — to restore some glamour, and perhaps some respect, to the salad course.
I suspect that many cooks would judge me a season off, salads being what we run to when the heat chases us toward something lighter. But warm-weather leaves, when you can find them, are often aggravated versions of themselves. Their bitter, pungent or spicy undertones can be aggressive, their texture brash. The cold is what brings their flavors into alignment.
Bitter chicories take on a mellow, buttery glow; collards turn bright-tasting and sweet, their stems juicy enough to eat raw; mustards, tasting of hazelnuts and wasabi, are irresistible.