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Walnut Relish to Put Atop Spring Things

Walnut Relish to Put Atop Spring Things
Walnut Relish with Egg | Delightful Crumb

Okay, so my memory of rhubarb and asparagus as magical springtime harbingers that emerge long before everything else and remind a girl that yes, actually, summer comes and life goes on after a frigid winter? NOT INCORRECT. I thought kale was a cold-weather thing! How is it that the root vegetables keep coming? When do we get strawberries and apricots? I’ve forgotten everything I knew about the Midwest!

I exaggerate. This isn’t entirely true. I still remember how to roast rhubarb and go with the flow of the unpredictable temperatures and enjoy a good thunderstorm. And I’m learning new things, too. Ramps seemed difficult to find in the Bay, and I don’t remember their abundance in Michigan circa 2010, but they are here in Chicago, and they are a delight. In my newfound ramp exuberance, I learned that this city is named for ramps. Did you know this? It is believed that “Chicago” is derived from the French pronunciation of the Miami-Illinois tribe’s term for this wild onion, shikaakwa. Fascinating!

While I may be a little cranky about the slow evolution of the spring market, we’ve basically arrived, so clearly I should calm down and enjoy. Early produce, as I think we all know by now, is best enjoyed as simply as possible. The recipe below is what I suggest you put atop your early asparagus and the last of the ramps and the prettiest spring onions. If you’ve got a grill, grill ’em, but roasting works wonderfully, too. Asparagus can be prepared even more simply—all it really needs is a quick blanch. This delicious condiment comes from Abra Berens’ Ruffage. She also has a more acid-forward rendition that skips the eggs, but this makes for a heartier side and is a logical yet surprising combination. Dare I say it is this spring’s answer to my beloved caper-raisin vinaigrette?!

Times are tough, and today, I don’t know what else to say about that. Except that I hope you’re finding your way. I hope you are nourished and comforted. I hope you feel joy in the simple things, like the first spring produce and the laughter of your neighbor’s daughter and the sunshine and persistent, irrational hope for a beautiful future for our children. And if you’re anything like me, moving forward feels a few degrees easier with something delicious on the table. So here’s what I’ve got for that.

Ramps | Delightful Crumb

Pounded Walnut Relish with Hard-Boiled Egg

Adapted from Abra Berens’ Ruffage

Walnut Relish with Egg | Delightful Crumb

1 cup (120 grams) raw walnuts

3 hard-boiled eggs

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup (120 milliliters) olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

To boil the eggs, bring water to boil in a small saucepan. Gently slip in the eggs. Prepare a bowl of ice water while the eggs cook. After 10 to 12 minutes, remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, transferring them to the cold water. Allow to cool.

Toast the walnuts in a 350-degree oven or in a toaster oven, until fragrant and lightly browned. Allow to cool for several minutes. While they are still slightly warm, smash the walnuts roughly. (An effective method is putting the walnuts in a ziplock bag and smashing them with a rolling pin or a heavy pan. You could also just chop them, though the texture is ideal when bashed instead.)

Grate the eggs on the largest holes of a box grater.

Combine the walnuts, grated eggs, parsley, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and two big pinches of salt. The walnuts will soak up the olive oil and acidic lemon juice as they cool.

Serve over asparagus, spring onions or ramps (roasted, grilled, blanched, etc.). If it’s lunchtime, an extra half egg atop is entirely reasonable. Leftover relish will keep for a few days, refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.

Herby Pea Soup for Springtime

Herby Pea Soup for Springtime
Herby Pea Soup | Delightful Crumb

Well. Here we are, still, despite everything. The times have not gotten less strange, though we’ve perhaps become more accustomed to them. For most of us, I don’t think it’s become much easier. In many ways, I feel like I’m in an extremely protracted experience of transition, one that was simply kicked off by a cross-country move so many months ago. There are new things I miss now, like the running trail near my apartment, stopping by the vast expanse of the lake, the surprising ease of visiting friends and family in Michigan, the restaurants and bars and coffee shops where I was just becoming a proper regular. But there are other things that I simply still miss—friends from Oakland, knowing at least the faces of all my neighbors, a level of familiarity that was only beginning to build here in Chicago. I wonder how long change and uncertainty will be so constant. And all this is just the tip of my own iceberg. If I’ve realized anything, it’s that everyone has an extremely specific experience of this time of coronavirus—a very personal matrix of reasons for worry or concern, with our own health risks and vulnerable loved ones, our own work worries, our own anxieties, our own fears. All I really know is that I don’t fully understand what anyone else is facing (which is generally the case in life, though we might forget it), and the best I can do is offer compassion and empathy and my very best self up to the world.

The rapid changes and unpredictability of the moment make me that much more grateful for springtime, for the trustworthy clockwork of the seasons ticking on. In some ways it feels wrong—that with so much pain and tragedy and suffering and confusion, the seasons just carry on like nothing has changed. Yet I’m also comforted that in a moment when so much is unpredictable, there’s something that happens just as expected, even when the sunny skies don’t match our moods. I’ve been reminded of a few things I’d forgotten about springtime—that is, the more dramatic arrival of this season on the heels of winter, as compared to the lovely but mild appearance at the end of a citrus-and-avocado-soaked California winter. I’d forgotten exactly how it smells, so utterly specific, especially after the rain. I was surprised by my own excitement about the first buds appearing on the trees, and the shock of seeing crocuses emerging from earth so recently frozen. I did not quite recall how deeply upsetting those last few snows are, when you are definitely over it—despite the fact that it’s just as beautiful as that first autumn snow. And last but not least, I had forgotten how weary of root vegetables a person can be. I hate to even say this, but for my Midwestern and East Coast and European friends: I happen to know that they have strawberries and edible flowers and PLENTY of asparagus over in the Bay Area by now. Meanwhile, I am living on spinach and anticipation.

This is the soup for those of us eager for springtime in all its glory but still subsisting on its promise. And, if I may be so bold to make the association, it’s a reminder that sometimes we have to live on that promise for a while, before the world turns a corner. May we all have enough outlandish hope to carry us to that moment.

Herby Green Pea & Coconut Soup

Adapted from Anna Jones’s A Modern Way to Cook

Serves 4 to 6

I love a fresh English pea, but while I’m waiting for those babies in early spring (but also in the dark of winter), this is where I turn. Swap in whatever soft, flavorful herbs you have on hand (parsley alone is less exciting but acceptable), and be generous with the toppings. If you don’t have green onions but do have a couple of leeks or spring onions, by all means use those! They will take a little longer to cook. You can use an immersion blender to purée the soup, but I always use a normal blender to make it super smooth as I find that’s part of the appeal. I sometimes make a half batch of this, and we gobble the whole thing up.

Herby Pea Soup | Delightful Crumb

Generous scoop of coconut oil

1 bunch of green onions, finely chopped

Salt

2 pounds frozen peas

1 14-ounce can of full-fat coconut milk

1 tablespoon vegetable stock powder or 1/2 stock cube

1 bunch basil, cilantro, mint, parsley or a combination of these

1–2 lemons

Freshly cracked pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Yogurt or more coconut milk, for serving (optional)

Toasted pepitas, for serving (optional)

Fill a kettle of water and bring to a boil while you gather the rest of your ingredients.

Put a large soup pan over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and, once melted, the green onion and a pinch of salt. Turn up the heat and cook until the green onions are softened, about 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the peas, coconut milk, stock powder or cube and 3 cups of boiling water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add most of the herbs, soft stalks included, and the juice of one lemon. In a blender, purée the soup until very smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning—you might want to add more salt or lemon. Add pepper here if you like as well.

Serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil and yogurt/coconut milk, if you wish, as well as freshly cracked black pepper, the herbs you reserved and toasted pepitas.

Coping List & Cornmeal Pound Cake

Coping List & Cornmeal Pound Cake
Cornmeal Pound Cake | Delightful Crumb

Hello, friends. How are you holding up out there? These are strange times—as we are all well aware. Many people have said wise and thoughtful things about this moment, and many more have said loud and frightening things, and I don’t know that I need to add to the clamor. If you’re like me, perhaps it’s hard to keep all of that reading and absorbing to a minimum already…? Instead, I am here to share a few small things that are helping me to cope, pound cake included. I narrowed my list to 10 and left out the basics—you should, indeed, call friends and family, exercise and keep up/start therapy if you need it. Also, I’ve worked from home for four years now, and I will affirm what they are saying: we should all be showering in the morning, wearing real clothes and scheduling a start and end to the workday. Close the door on your office (or even just the materials) if you can.

And so, here are my top 10! How are you finding peace amidst the chaos?

1. Take daytime breaks. Make a cup of coffee, step outside, walk around the house or meditate for a couple of minutes.

2. Go outside! Whether this is for a quick break, my morning run or drinking tea on the porch, the fresh air is not only good for my soul but a reminder that spring is coming—and always does.

3. Amplify the good vibes. I love all of the positive things that people are doing on the internet and social media, but there’s a lot of stressful stuff on there, too. I’m trying to take in the encouraging aspects, then step away.

4. On the flip side, quiet the extra noise. If something is bringing you down, mute that Instagram account and return to point number two! Also, I so appreciate that everyone is connecting more, but even this (and the associated screens) can overwhelm me. If you are finding the same, focus your attention and spread out the calls.

5. And relatedly, no social media or news first thing. I have historically not been great at this, but I’m trying to fill the initial empty morning space with good things that will set my day off right.

6. Write handwritten notes. When my anxiety reaches its heights, it always helps me to get out of my own head and think about other people. Postcards and letters force me to slow down and don’t require staring at another screen—and who doesn’t love receiving mail?!

7. Watch musicals, up to and including the goofy ones, if not especially those. Apparently I should have better prepared Ben for the strangeness of Bye Bye Birdie, and I cried about seven times during Fiddler on the Roof, but this is nonetheless working for us. (Note: If you, as a rule, don’t like musicals, this advice is not for you.)

8. Sit down for dinner, and/or any other meal where you’re able. The tangible nourishment of food is a comfort, and God knows we need that right now.

9. No coronavirus talk at said mealtimes.

10. Bake! (And then eat the delicious thing you’ve baked.)

Before I get to the baking, I’ll make just one observation. What feels perhaps most unique about this situation is that it is collective, not individual. So many crises are personal, and we can ignore them if they are not our own. But this is not like that. Here, the whole point is the collective. If we are not careful, we endanger not just the most vulnerable among us but everyone. Personal risk is just one factor in a much bigger picture, and the truth is, that was always the case. If nothing else, I hope that this moment changes us for the better—that we might move forward as though we do, indeed, believe we’re all connected.

And so, I offer you a classic recipe from the great Claudia Fleming that does require quite a quantity of butter and half a dozen eggs but pays off with richness and comfort and—dare I say—a delightful crumb. They say that the supply chains are healthy, so let’s just go big. Slices are delicious for dessert with a dollop of yogurt and spoonful of jam, or on their own for your afternoon coffee break. Freeze a few slices for future you, or leave them by your neighbor’s door, and keep your head up.

Cornmeal Pound Cake

Lightly adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course

Makes one 9×5 loaf, about 10 servings

With recipes that call for lowering oven temperature, I often have a little bit of trouble with my old apartment ovens. If you’re in the same boat, just start checking early while also being prepared for the cake to need even more time to bake. Tenting with foil will keep it from getting too brown.

Cornmeal Pound Cake | Delightful Crumb


1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus additional

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

6 large eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups cake flour (or substitute all-purpose), plus additional

1/2 cup coarse cornmeal

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until well combined, about 2 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. (If you want to overachieve, sift them.) Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Gradually add this to the butter mixture, beating well to combine. If the batter curdles, add a spoonful or two of the dry mixture.

Add half of the dry mixture to the batter and beat to combine. Add the remaining dry ingredients, gently folding in with a spatula.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the cake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes longer, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. If the cake is getting overly browned but isn’t yet done, tent with foil and continue baking.

Let the cake cool slightly on a rack before removing from the pan to continue cooling. Serve alone or with compote, fruit or jam and/or whipped cream, crème fraîche, ice cream or yogurt.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.

How to Eat | Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

How to Eat | Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter
Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

If you’ve been reading here, you are aware that this is my first winter back in a cold climate after seven years of living in California. And while this has been a mild winter in Chicago, or so I’m told, I’m not all that into it, I’m sorry to say. I am hopeful that it will get better with more time, friends and winter gear, but that’s just the truth right now.

In addition to finding the cold, well, cold, I definitely have not figured out how to shop for groceries through these barren months in a way I feel great about. In the Bay Area, I chose to purchase mostly local food because I believed in it for a variety of reasons. But it would be naive to overlook the fact that it was also very possible—and honestly not that hard—to eat a wide-ranging diet sourced locally. I could get fantastic produce straight on through winter, fat pomelos and lemons and avocados and all kinds of lettuces, not to mention nuts and dried fruits that came from nearby. It wasn’t hard to find local cheese, milk, yogurt, butter, eggs, fish, tofu, beans, almond butter, bread or grains (or wine!). I could walk to my farmers market and carry it all home. I know, I know—some things about California are as good as they say. There’s a part of me that still doesn’t know how I let that go!

(Oh wait—it was exorbitantly expensive to live there! Also, earthquakes! But California is popular for a reason, you guys!!)

Anyway, all that to say: there’s a huge difference between that experience of shopping locally and the version in which there’s not much in season. One thing I kept telling myself as I anticipated this particular loss in the wake of our move was that if I really believe in eating locally, this would be a good test. What does it look like to eat locally when you don’t have access to abundant produce? What do you do when winter offers only beets, enormous overwintered carrots and potatoes—do you choose local, or do you choose a varied diet? What do you do when the options are local or organic? What if my fears of botulism rule out the potential of me ever becoming a prolific canner? And what do you do if you don’t have money? Even in the Bay Area, shopping locally isn’t easy at all if you are poor, and/or far from fresh markets or well-stocked grocery stores. For me, buying primarily local food was affordable, but while I’ll always advocate for the seconds bin, I absolutely recognize that I’m able to spend a lot more on groceries than many people can. I had a satisfactory answer on how to eat when I lived in California with a good income and a car, but that only solves the problem of food for a tiny fraction of the population. Alice Waters arguably represents the most virtuous form of eating in our modern food culture, and while it’s fully understandable that she took advantage of the Bay Area’s bounty in the course of defining her cuisine and her cause, the ethos might apply universally, but the practices don’t. When it comes right down to it, what is this so-called virtuous eating anyway—and who gets to define it?

I should say now that I don’t have any answers to these questions. And while there’s more I could say on the subject, I also don’t want to pretend that I’m an expert on this. I’m just one person who loves food, trying to figure out how to live a life I feel good about in this very complicated world that demands a multitude of decisions that run from silly to serious. I’ve decided that I still get to eat avocados and oranges and almonds even though I don’t live in Oakland anymore. But the truth is that it leaves me with some cognitive dissonance. I have a winter CSA that has been great, especially once we moved from shallots and beets to spinach and mushrooms. I’m reveling in the things I can get, including a shocking variety of local grains, maple syrup and popcorn from any number of farms. And I’ve found it helpful to make a few more things from scratch. If I’m further from the source of certain foods, perhaps I can get closer to the origins of others.

And that brings me to my favorite cookbook this winter, Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day. The book’s 20 chapters are organized around specific categories, including porridge, fruit compotes, nut milk, soups, dressings and granola. Each chapter has at least one base recipe, the most simple take, followed by many variations on that theme. These are definitely recipes for people who want to cook, as many are staples that could be purchased or made more simply (e.g., here, you are soaking whole oat groats overnight and grinding them to make your oatmeal). Please note that I am not recommending this book to you if you hate being in the kitchen or don’t want to devote much time to cooking. There are other great cookbooks for you! Just maybe not this one. And a lot of it is hippie food for sure, what with all of the soaking and blending and seeds and lack of sugar. But as someone who loves both hippie food and cooking, I am all in.

Most of the recipes make nice big batches, so any work required up front pays off for days. I’ve loved waking up knowing that I have porridge, a compote, berry chia pudding and nut butter to assemble into breakfast. What I’m sharing below is a delicious nut and seed butter that is excellent atop toast, drizzled on oatmeal, scooped alongside an apple or eaten straight from the jar. Back in my dreamy California life (JK! It was a really good life but honestly never dreamy!), I had two to four favorite nut butters, none of which I can find here. In their absence, I have felt extremely annoyed with the expensive and not-that-amazing grocery store options. This recipe has made me way less cranky and very satisfied. I hope it brings you the same as you persevere through winter/life.

Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

Lightly adapted from Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day

Makes 1 cup (240 ml)

This is just one of many nut and seed butter recipes in this book. I’d encourage you to pick it up for that and much more inspiration! The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of flaky salt, which I found too salty for my taste—and I like salt. I’m giving a range below and suggest you start at 1/2 teaspoon and adjust from there.

Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

1 cup (140 grams) whole raw almonds

1 cup (130 grams) raw sunflower seeds

1 cup (85 grams) unsweetened shredded dried coconut

1/2–1 teaspoon flaky salt, or to taste

Begin by toasting the almonds, sunflower seeds and coconut. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have three pans that fit into your oven at once, you can toast these simultaneously; otherwise, take them one by one. Toast the almonds for 16 to 18 minutes, the sunflower seeds for 10 to 12 minutes and the coconut for a quick 4 to 6 minutes. Check at least once during baking to shake and turn the pans for even toasting. Everything should be golden brown and fragrant. Allow to cool slightly before proceeding.

Put the toasted nuts, seeds and coconut in a food processor and process for 2 minutes, or until they are broken down and come together in a mass. Break up the mixture, scrape down the sides of the processor and continue blending until the butter is completely smooth and liquid, 3 to 4 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the processor again, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pulse to combine. Taste for salt and add more if you like.

Store in a sealed glass jar or an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge for up to 1 month. This butter is very smooth at room temperature and quite solid straight out of the fridge. Assuming it’s not the height of summer, I think this stores best unrefrigerated, but if you keep it in the fridge, take it out 30 minutes before you want to use it, if possible.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.

Winter Salad Tips & Tricks

Winter Salad Tips & Tricks
Winter Salad | Delightful Crumb

Earlier this month, we were supposed to go to my cousin’s wedding in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I know what you’re saying right now—a January wedding in South Dakota?! Yes. And you’re right! Even hardened Chicago people said this to us. But you must understand: prairie people are particularly tough people. They live out there, you know? They do not pause their lives for snow and cold. I may have become a bit of a wimp when it comes to the cold, but I am proud to come from this stock.

But airlines, they pause. In a drawn-out comedy of errors, our Friday night flight was cancelled due to weather in Chicago, and we were put on standby for a flight the next morning. Ben was flagged at random for a super search as we went through security—if ever you see “SSSS” on the top of your boarding pass, beware! Also known as a “quad-S,” it prompted an expletive from the supervising agent, and then they shut down the whole security lane. While I sat on the other side waiting for Ben, watching the security representative flip carefully through his books and pat down the bottoms of his feet, I got a text saying this flight was cancelled due to blizzard conditions, such as 55 mph winds, in Sioux Falls. (Though it was not the reason for the cancellation, I feel obligated to mention that it was also, like, 0 degrees.) At that point, we were way down the standby list for the next flight—and all of these being tiny 50-person planes, there was no chance we were getting on. This is when we were advised to give up, which was for the best, as that flight was cancelled, too. Then, we sat for a couple of hours by the baggage claim, watching for our checked luggage, which never came, and so we gave up again. Much later that evening, Ben went back and met with success, though he had to demand that someone search for the bag in real time.

It was a true disaster. (Also, sorry, Lucas and Emily!!)

All that to say: while this has been a mild winter in Chicago, winter is tough! My memories are not incorrect! And the other truth is that being without abundant local produce is as bad as I thought it might be. Winter cooking is simply more fun when the market keeps overflowing. (Also, where is all of the escarole?! Is it really too difficult to ship, or are you Californians eating all of it?)

But there’s hope! A well stocked pantry and a few creative ideas will get you well on your way to filling up with produce even in winter. And while my tips today are most directed at those without bountiful winter markets, a good salad secret is good for anyone, even if you live in LA. Plus, another truth is that sunshine and warm temperatures and fresh vegetables (in winter or whenever) do not preclude sadness and the blues. Everyone knows what a long, hard, cold, dark winter feels like, if only internally. While I also recommend chocolate, a top-notch salad can help. Here are some thoughts on how to get there.

Winter Salad | Delightful Crumb

Techniques

  • The Creamy Layer: This has come to the fore in restaurants and cookbooks like Alison Roman’s, so you might be familiar with the concept. In short, sweep a layer of yogurt, labneh, tahini or a similarly creamy ingredient across a platter, then pile the salad on top. This is both delicious and an easy way to elevate even a simple salad. It’s great with most any leaf (though better with heartier ones) and also salads featuring roast veg. More on prepping your creamy ingredient below.

  • The Essential Crunch: A salad needs some crunch. This can come by way of nuts, seeds, croutons or simply crunchy vegetables. I’ve listed lots of ideas below, but don’t neglect this important textural element!

  • The Simplest Dressing: I generally make a very simple salad dressing and let the interest come from the rest of the ingredients. I start with the acid (lemon juice or vinegar) and whisk in mustard, salt and pepper, then add olive oil and mix again. I like a ratio of acid to oil that’s along the lines of 50/50, but many people go far heavier on the oil. Taste, adjust and find your own preference!

  • Massage That Kale: If you use kale for the base of your salad, give it some love first. Kale salads have been trendy for years, but I still encounter some sorry ones—personally, I have no interest in laboriously chewing a full leaf of raw, underdressed kale. My method is to wash the greens, strip them from the thick stalk and chop them in thin ribbons. Then, put them in a bowl and add a big pinch of salt and a pour of lemon juice or vinegar, or your completed dressing. Massage that into the leaves, really working it through. Let the kale hang out for a bit before you carry on.

Principles

  • Contrast: Consider acid, crunch and creaminess and how they all interact. Channel Samin: find the balance of salt, fat and acid even with an entirely raw salad.

  • Complexity: Think about number of ingredients. In the winter, unless you have access to super fresh greenhouse greens or live somewhere warm, delicate greens tend to be less compelling as they’ve traveled a distance. If you want to stay simple, consider a citrus salad, which can be as stripped down as a layer of citrus with two or three toppings (toasted seeds and pomegranate, for example, or olives, red onion and parsley—finished with oil and flaky salt, of course!).

    If you want something more hearty or complex, think through the role of the salad in the meal and what else is on the table. Is it a major component or a side? Do you have a lot of strong flavors in the meal already? Does the salad have a starring ingredient or set of ingredients—something you’re really craving or that looked particularly fresh?

    With this in mind, decide whether you want a creamy layer. If you’re putting creamy things atop, like Feta cheese or avocado, or if your meal is already very rich, I think this is overkill. From there, determine the base of the salad, which could be greens—leafy (butter lettuce), bitter (escarole), crunchy (romaine) or hearty (kale)—shaved vegetables (think fennel, carrot, radish) or even a fruit like citrus or apple. Three to five additional toppings feels like a sweet spot to me: fennel, apple and toasted walnuts; roasted delicata squash, farro, goat cheese and herbs; oranges, toasted pepitas and pomegranate seeds.

  • Composition: Even before you begin, imagine how the salad will look on the plate. Consider color—ingredients like pomegranate, blood orange and watermelon radish offer pops of color, or you could go for a single-color salad (green or pink/red are your best bets). Use a bowl or platter that is bigger than you think you need; it always looks attractive, and your greens won’t get squished. Also, pause before you start to chop: try slicing thin vegetables on the bias (aka a slant), supreming citrus or cutting herbs in a chiffonade. Generally, herbs go a long way in making a simple salad prettier. Finally, pile it carefully. I typically layer my ingredients rather than mixing the whole salad together. Not every component needs to be thoroughly dressed, and you can always finish with a squeeze of citrus and/or drizzle of olive oil to balance flavors.

  • Quality: Use the good stuff. It’s trickier in winter, but choose the produce that looks best—don’t get too wedded to your plan and end up buying wilting greens!

Ingredients

Crunchy
  • Nuts & seeds: Find what you like, but also keep rotating for interest. I always have almonds, walnuts, pepitas and sunflower seeds on hand. I toast them in my toaster oven or on the stovetop in a dry pan. Typically, I start with whole nuts, then chop them once cooled. You can also buy most toasted. Or, candy them by adding sugar or maple syrup to the pan, letting it caramelize. And don’t forget about the little seeds, like sesame and hemp!

  • Toasted buckwheat & quinoa: Similarly, you can get an excellent crunch from toasted buckwheat, which lends a deep, nutty character, or quinoa. If raw, toast these in a dry pan until lightly brown and fragrant. You can also find toasted buckwheat in a well-stocked bulk section.

  • Savory granola: Like nuts or seeds, with a little more oomph. Here’s a great recipe.

  • Bread based: Classic croutons, breadcrumbs and toasted pita chips all work nicely. To jazz up homemade croutons, add a chopped garlic clove or a pinch of red pepper flakes to the olive oil and salt before roasting.

  • Fruit & veg: Thinly sliced radishes, fennel, apples and pears are a few of my cold-weather favorites. Carrots shaved lengthwise in ribbons and thinly sliced red cabbage add color. (Note: citrus and avocado covered below!)
Creamy
  • Greek yogurt or labneh: Stir in a pinch of salt, then spread it onto a platter in big swoops. You can also add more flavor by mixing in chopped preserved lemon, fresh lemon zest and/or juice, a spoonful of tahini, minced garlic or pepper flakes. Thick yogurt can also be dolloped atop a hearty salad.

  • Tahini: Thin out tahini with water until it is a spreadable consistency and stir in a pinch of salt and, if you like, some lemon juice. Spread it onto the plate, or thin it until pourable and drizzle over the salad instead.

  • Hummus: If you’re making an individual salad, a scoop of hummus tucked alongside is an excellent flavor and protein addition. Try making your “hummus” with another legume, too!

  • Avocado: Avocado pairs particularly well with citrus in winter salads. When using avocado, I sometimes make an exception to my rule of tossing the greens alone before adding toppings. I like how the avocado breaks down a bit, making the salad creamier.

  • Cheese: In seeking out creaminess, consider crumbled goat cheese, Feta, burrata and torn mozzarella. (On the non-creamy front, shaved Parmesan is always a good bet.)
Heft
  • Roasted veg: My winter favorites are squash (particularly delicata and kabocha) and sweet potatoes. Beets are excellent, too, when you’re up for the mess, or choose the pretty golden ones for cleaner prep.

  • Cooked grains: Farro and wheat berries lend a nice chew and pick up dressing well. Quinoa and even brown rice are also good options. You don’t need a lot—just a handful or two tossed over top will lend texture without too much weight.

  • Legumes: In the same vein, try spooning a few spoonfuls of cooked lentils over the salad. This works best with varieties that keep their shape, such as beluga or French green lentils. Or try chickpeas, whether straight from a can, cooked from scratch or baked/fried for crunch.

  • Soft-boiled eggs: Cook them to your liking, from very runny to firm, and slice lengthwise in half or quarters. Take a cue from Bartavelle in Berkeley and top each open face with Aleppo pepper flakes, a little sprinkle of flaky salt and a quick drizzle of olive oil.

  • Sliced frittata: I learned this trick from the brilliant Kelsie at Standard Fare, my other favorite place in the world for a salad (also in Berkeley, go figure!). I’m not saying you need to prepare a frittata before you can toss together a salad, but if you happen to have leftovers of a thick frittata, slice it cold from the fridge and arrange the slices over the salad.

  • Crispy tofu: Fried or baked in cubes, tofu is a solid protein addition and can be delicious, too—just make sure to cook it until crisp. Scour the internet or your cookbooks for a flavorful marinade.
Acid
  • Preserved lemon: Truly a secret weapon. Preserved lemons have so much flavor. Chop finely, then add to your dressing or creamy component, or just sprinkle a bit on top.

  • Citrus: Any citrus is lovely, from plain old oranges to brilliant Cara Caras to textural pomelos to zippy grapefruit. If you see kumquats, get them! Slice very thinly, removing the seeds. They provide wonderfully vibrant flavor.

  • Olives: A particularly fine pairing for citrus. If they have pits, smack them on the cutting board with the flat side of a big knife for nice, rough pieces. Castelvetranos and those wrinkly black ones are my favorite.

  • Capers: Another great choice toward this end. I choose salt-packed capers whenever I have the option. If you’re feeling ambitious, fry them in a shallow layer of oil for some extra crunch.

  • Pickles: A quick pickle is an excellent way to get an extra hit of acid. Slice your veg thinly and let it marinate in some vinegar with a big pinch of salt while you put the salad together. This is particularly tasty with shallots, red onions and radishes. Or, just buy some good pickles, leaving them whole or slicing them into smaller pieces.
Pizzazz
  • Pomegranate: As beautiful as they are delicious, pomegranate seeds offer color, texture and a literal burst of flavor—a winter treasure.

  • Spices: Sprinkle spices over a salad for extra flavor—try crushed pepper flakes such as Aleppo, Urfa or Maras (all milder than red pepper flakes); toasted fennel or cumin seeds; sumac or a blend like za’atar. Alternately, stir pepper flakes or a ground spice into your tahini or yogurt.

  • Herbs: I put a lot of herbs in my salads. They can be mixed in with the leaves or tossed on top. While it takes a little bit of time to pluck leaves from stems, it’s well worth it for the payoff. My everyday salad favorites that are easy enough to find in winter are parsley, mint and chives.

  • Sprouts: Much like herbs, these add dimension and flavor to any salad. Sprout them at home for something fresh! My mom just got me a kit, a reminder of how easy this is.

  • Dates: To me, the very best sweet addition to a salad. One of my longtime go-tos is a green salad (any leaves you like) with dates, avocado and chopped toasted almonds.

  • Dressing additions: Add anchovy, chopped garlic or shallot, grated fresh ginger, turmeric or even a tiny bit of fish sauce to your dressing to kick things up a notch.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.