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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fresh Winter Salads

As we wend our way through the cold winter months, an intuitive desire for heavier foods starts to dominate our mood. This is a natural and normal process as our bodies need the extra fat and protein for moisture and insulation, and to give us the deep seated energy that will endure throughout the long cold season.

But this of course doesn't mean we should forgo fresh seasonal vegetables and fruit salads. No no no! In fact, we absolutely need the vitamins, phytonutrients and fiber from these fresh whole foods, especially now throughout the holiday season.

It is easy to swing over to a high fat, high carbohydrate diet during the holidays. Too much meat, sweets and butter can bring us there quicker than we think. A little more of these is one thing, but we all know that when we give ourselves an inch, it doesn't take much before we are taking a mile.

Lucky for us, there is a plethora of fresh veggies and fruits available throughout the winter. Keep in mind to buy locally if you can (fresh is best), and to eat the varieties that are naturally in season throughout the winter: roasted root vegetables make a naturally sweet topping for fresh salads; cabbage, kale, spinach, collard greens and other cruciferous vegetables are hearty and healthy winter favorites; fresh or braised fennel with roasted vegetables gives a festive kick; and fruits of the season like pomegranate, persimmon, cranberries, citrus, and guavas add color and pizazz on top of fresh greens.

In addition, experiment with warming spices like curry powder, cinnamon and cayenne added to dressings, and top salads with toasted nuts and seeds. Deeper, richer flavors make the body feel nourished and warm, even if they are mixed in with the fresh and cooling qualities of a green salad mix.

So we don't have to swing all the way to the heavy side during these colder months. Keeping fresh, seasonal veggies and fruits on hand will ensure that we stay balanced and healthy all winter long.

Baby Spinach Salad with Curried Apples and Onions

[print recipe]
Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
1 apple, sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch salt
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons walnut oil (or use more olive oil)

1 cup pecans or walnuts
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup

4 handfuls of baby spinach
2 ounces goat feta

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and apple. Saute for 2-3 minutes then turn down the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 35-45 minutes, until the onions have released their natural sugars and have begun to caramelize. They should be a nice caramel color.

In the meantime, prepare the dressing and candied pecans. For the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together in a small dish. Let the dressing sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.

For the pecans, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Place the pecans in the pan, stirring and flipping constantly, until the pecans are lightly toasted, about 8 minutes—watch out, they burn fast at the end.

Add the spices and salt; mix about 30 seconds to toast the spices. Turn the heat to low and add the maple syrup. Stir constantly, cooking until the mixture has thickened and is very sticky, about two minutes. Remove to a plate and cool completely.

Place a handful of spinach onto four salad plates. Drizzle with the dressing. Place 1/4 of the warmed caramelized onions over each of the plates of spinach and top with the candied pecans and feta. Give each a grinding of fresh black pepper. Serve while the onions are still warm.

Green and Orange Salad with Cinnamon-Maple Vinaigrette (pictured above)

[print recipe]
Yield: 4-6 servings

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
4-5 tablespoons walnut oil

3 oranges
1 head romaine leaves, chopped
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
6 dried figs, sliced thin
1/3 cup toasted almonds, chopped

Mix all of the dressing ingredients in a small dish. Let the dressing sit 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.

Slice the stem and bottom off of each of the oranges. With a cut side down, use a sharp knife to cut away the skin in sections from top to bottom, being careful not to cut away too much of the juicy fruit. Slice the oranges cross-wise into 1/4 inch slices.

Place the romaine leaves on a decorative plate or salad bowl. Toss the greens with a bit of the dressing. Arrange the oranges and red onion slices on top of the greens and garnish with the sliced figs and almonds. Drizzle the top with a little more of the dressing and give the salad a grinding of fresh black pepper.


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