This simple, healthy salad pairs warm kale with the sweet and salty flavors of roasted butternut squash and sweet potato, slices of Bosc pear, crispy pecans, and a lemon dressing. A little creamy, a little crunchy… *soooo* warming and savory!
Do you think salads should be strictly a warm weather food?
I surely do not. 😉
Certainly, the second you hear the word “salad”, you’re probably thinking cold greens, raw vegetables, and the toppings that go along with it. A staple of summer!
Yet, I find winter salads to be delicious and hearty, utilizing all the wonderful cold weather vegetables that we’ve come to associate with winter comfort food.
So, what makes a salad a “winter salad”?
To me, winter salads require substance and texture, body and great taste.
My favorite base for a good winter salad is really any green that can hold up well to heat and not become mushy or slimy.
Then you need some delicious creamy roasted vegetables, a little sweetness, a little saltiness, and a good amount of crunch.
How To Make Winter Salad With Warm Kale, Butternut Squash & Crispy Shallots
I mentioned hearty greens being the base for winter salads. In my opinion, good old kale holds up the best!
Raw bunches of kale in salad, however, is quite unappealing to me and even hard on digestion… So, I’ve lightly steamed it and infused it with shallots, olive oil, salt, and pepper to bring out its flavor.
Cooked kale tastes infinitely better than raw.
Roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes add salty, sweet, and a creamy texture to this winter salad, along with slices of Bosc pear. You can use whatever pear you’d like, but I find Bosc pear to hold up best in this salad, without adding too much moisture.
As far as toppings, I went with crispy shallots and pecans. I find pecans to pair exquisitely with all the winter salad ingredients, adding just enough crunch to not be overpowering.
The Best Winter Salad Dressing
Let’s talk about the dressing that ties it all together! After all, it’s really the dressing that infuses winter salad, giving it a tangy sweet and salty taste.
Since citrus is best in winter, it was a natural choice for the dressing.
Orange, lemon, finely minced shallot, Dijon mustard and a mild rice wine vinegar complete this winter salad. It’s tossed along with the kale right in the pan so the heat really infuses every single piece of kale.
Tips For Making A Delicious Warm Kale Salad
You have some make-ahead options if you’re planning on eating this salad for lunch or are strapped for time.
The butternut squash and sweet potatoes can be roasted in advance and stored in the refrigerator. To bring them to life, a little olive oil and heat will do the trick and they’ll be ready to go.
Same goes for the dressing, which can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.
Since kale is a tougher than most greens, it’s important to season at every step. Adding salt and pepper to the the kale right after it’s touched the heat will ensure well rounded seasoning.
Once the kale leaves have wilted a little, I like adding the dressing right away in the pan and giving the leaves a good toss. This will infuse the dressing into every leaf.
I mentioned that the type of pear you use does make a difference.
Fortunately this year, my pear tree was generous and I was able to use my own, but generally I prefer Bosc pear above all.
It holds its shape up well and doesn’t fall apart, while adding a mild sweet texture to the salad. The skin is very thin so there’s no need to peel.
Best Vegetables & Fruit For Warm Winter Salad
When making winter salad, consider what's in season (even if you're shopping at the grocery store!).
Think root vegetables, beets, Brussels sprouts, winter squash, carrots, Swiss chard, parsnips, rutabagas, collard greens, red onion, fennel, radishes, cabbage, and kale. These all work particularly well when paired together.
Most require a level of cooking which makes their nutrients more bio-available. Roasting, sautéing, or boiling are all good options.
I generally like roasting root vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper to release their sweetness and flavor. As for greens, I like sautéing them slightly until tender and but still retaining a bite.
As far as fruit, I'm a big fan of sliced apples, pears, and pomegranate.
Variations On Warm Kale Salad
Don’t like regular curly kale? You can definitely experiment with Lacinato or red kale, or even use baby kale. I personally favor the curly variety for this delicious recipe!
Prefer not to use pecans? You can easily substitute another nut or seed. I recommend anything that isn't too tough. Good alternatives would be walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds. They’re mild enough that they wouldn’t overpower the winter salad.
Don't like butternut squash? You can use acorn squash or any hearty winter squash… or just skip the squash all together and stick with sweet potatoes. Same for sweet potatoes. If you don’t like them, use squash only.
Prefer apple to pear? I do find that the creamy texture of a ripe pear works wonderfully, but an apple will be delicious too.
Not a fan of shallots or onions? You’re welcome to leave them out. I recommend trying leek instead, as it is a little bit milder yet adds nice flavor without being overpowering.
Winter Salad With Warm Kale Butternut Squash & Crispy Shallots
This simple, healthy salad pairs warm kale with the sweet and salty flavors of roasted butternut squash and sweet potato, slices of Bosc pear, crispy pecans, and a lemon dressing. A little creamy, a little crunchy... *soooo* warming and savory!
- 2 sweet potatoes peeled and chopped into 1" cubes
- 1/2 butternut squash peeled and chopped into 1" cubes
- 1/2 + 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil divided
- 2 tablespoons orange juice freshly squeezed
- 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon shallot minced
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt divided
- 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper divided
- 1 head kale chopped
- 1/4 cup crispy pecans
- 2 Bosc pears sliced
- 2 large shallots peeled and sliced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add chopped sweet potatoes and butternut squash to parchment paper-lined roasting sheet.
Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss well to combine.
Roast for 30 minutes on middle rack, turning regularly to ensure even roasting.
Combine orange juice, lemon juice, rice vinegar, 6 tablespoons olive oil, Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon minced shallot. Whisk well and set aside.
Over medium high heat, fill a medium-sized pot with 1 inch of water.
Add chopped kale and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and let steam for 5 minutes until the kale is wilted but still has a bite.
Meanwhile, preheat saucepan on medium high heat.
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to pan along with sliced shallots.
Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring regularly until shallots start to brown (about 5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside on paper towel lined plate.
When kale is steamed, drain. If necessary, squeeze any excess water out so it isn't soggy.
Put kale in the pan where the shallots were cooked, and gently toss around a little bit so kale can absorb some of the shallot and olive oil flavor.
Add 2 teaspoons of the dressing to kale and mix well.
Assemble salad on shallow plate: first kale, then sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and pear slices. Top with crispy pecans, shallots, and a generous drizzle of dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste, again if necessary. Enjoy!
Do you have any favorite winter salad recipes? What's your favorite warm salad combination?
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