Thursday, March 3, 2011

Enjoy Your Winter Salads Because Spring Salads May Be Late This Year.

Spinach and Apple Salad with Cranberry-Maple Dressin

I received some bad news at the supermarket the other day. After going to three stores searching for fresh fennel bulb and not finding a single one, I asked a produce manager if he had any. He told me that fennel was going to be sparse this season because of frosts in California that damaged many crops.

Seeing my obvious disappointment, he said, "But we just got some artichokes in. Do you like those?"

"I love artichokes," I said, feeling suddenly uplifted.

He walked me over to the next aisle, and pointing to the large bin of artichokes, said proudly, "Here they are! Take your pick."

It didn't look promising. The outer leaves of the artichokes were covered in white spots. Many had angry brown streaks running up the leaves. I picked one up and gently squeezed it. It was spongy instead of firm.

"Aren't those white spots and brown streaks signs of frost damage?" I asked the manager.

"Um, yeah, but really, they're not that bad," he said sheepishly, then walked away.

So I didn't end up with either fennel or artichokes. Curious about these frosts, I decided to do a little research about California crops when I got home. Here's what I discovered: Heavy rains and freezing temperatures in January destroyed many avocado farms, which will lead to smaller crops and higher prices at the market. Unseasonably cold weather has  cost many farmers corn and lettuce crops. More concerning is a white mold that is attacking several California crops including lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower.

It seems this spring will be difficult on farmers and consumers alike. So in the meantime, enjoy your reasonably priced, tasty winter produce including greens, squash, root vegetables and apples.

Spinach and apples are in abundance right now, so try this colorful winter Spinach and Apple Salad with Cranberry-Maple Dressing. Flavor contrasts are the key to this salad's success: sweet spinach and tart Granny Smith apples are doused with a rich dressing made from sweet maple syrup, mouth-puckering cranberries and tangy apple cider vinegar.

It may not sing spring, but it will sure brighten any dreary winter's day.

Spinach and Apple Salad with Warm Cranberry-Maple Dressing
Makes 4 main or 8 side servings
Printable recipe.

12 cups fresh spinach (about 16 ounces)
1 large Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced with skins on and doused with lemon juice
1/4 cup lightly toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

1 cup fresh or unthawed frozen cranberries with 6 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large bowl, toss spinach and apples.

2. In a small pot over medium-high, add cranberries and water. Cook until they begin to pop. Let cool. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, maple, salt and pepper. Pour into a small food processor with cranberries in water and puree. It's OK if it's a little lumpy.

3. Pour still-warm dressing over the salad, and toss well. Sprinkle with chopped nuts.

Here are more exciting winter salad recipes you might enjoy:
Roasted and Stuffed Pear Salad recipe from
Frisee and Cara Cara Orange Salad recipe from Food Blogga
Roasted Purple Cauliflower and Arugula Salad recipe from Food Blogga
Raw Kale and Citrus Salad with Pumpkin Seeds recipe from Dani Spies
Winter Chicken Salad with Blood Oranges and Apples recipe from Stacey Snacks
Shaved Celeriac, Radish and Pecorino Salad with White Truffle Vinaigrette recipe from The Nourish Network