That’s what I’m saying to myself these days, especially since the beginning of this week, when the forces of nature delivered six inches of thick, wet snow followed immediately by howling wind and piercing cold. Does this sound unpleasant to you? It does to me, too. But what can I do? Winter, it comes. Every year. Especially in the Berkshires. And so, this year, instead of stomping my feet, pulling my hat over my head, and whining about it, I’m going to try to embrace it. It is here. It is now. And I’m here, too, for now. So.
I know, it sounds dramatic. But there is so much that can make life difficult without trying to work hard against something — like weather — that I just can’t change.
In that spirit, I’m embracing, in my own quiet way, winter’s happy championing of warm, hearty meals. Winter is insidious that way, creeping into the sleeves of your woolen sweaters, and up your neck, whispering, “You should really roast something tonight, you know.”
But in this strange stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find that my eating habits get sort of schizophrenic and extreme. And — okay, I’ll admit it — not so great. One night, I’ll chow down on some leftover chocolate cake and a handful of dried apricots, and the next I’ll want brown rice and stir-fried bok choy. The only common thread is that every meal ends with tea — it’s way too cold to do without it. What I want, I think, is something warm and satisfying — hearty, even — but light and nutritious. Something filling, but not indulgent. (After all, the indulgences of Thanksgiving are still fresh in my mind, and I know I ought to leave room for my mother’s Christmas cookies, which are coming down the pike any day now.) How do I meld these seemingly contradictory impulses? With a warm winter salad.
I found the recipe for this salad at a blog called Remedial Eating. (Though there seems to be nothing remedial about Molly’s eating; her recipes are lovely as is her writing.) It was inspired by a Bittman recipe — and we all know you can’t go wrong with Bittman. There’s a reason why our copy of his cookbook has a cracked spine and splotches of sauce all over it.
The star of the recipe is roasted sweet potatoes, which are easy to find around here at this time of year. The ones with bright orange flesh will make your salad look jewel-toned and beautiful; at our co-op there were only yellow-fleshed potatoes, but they were just as delicious. Along with the potatoes there’s black beans (I used dried, but canned are a-okay), spinach, sharp feta, and crunchy pumpkin seeds. And topping it all is a bright lime-infused, Southwestern-leaning dressing. (Perfect preparation for my yearly January pilgrimage to Sedona.) Dan eyed the dish suspiciously when I put it on the table last night — it does have a little bit of the look of a hippie-dippie health pile — but we couldn’t help but finish off every last scrap. It’s addictive, vibrant, warm, and hearty. Exactly what I wanted.
Roasted Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad
This recipe is pretty much endlessly modifiable, depending on the ingredients you have on hand. Swap out black beans for chick peas, sub in a different sharp cheese — like queso fresco, or ricotta salata — or use a few handfuls of a different hearty salad green, like arugula, endive, or radicchio. (I used some radicchio along with the spinach in ours.)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubesâ€¨
1 c. dried black beans, soaked overnight and cooked until tender (or 1 can)
2 limes, 1 zested, both juicedâ€¨
6 Tbs. olive oil, dividedâ€¨
4 oz. feta, crumbled
â€¨few handfuls spinach
1/3 c. pumpkin seeds
â€¨1 bunch cilantro, choppedâ€¨
1 tsp. sriracha or other hot saiceâ€¨
1 tsp. agave nectar (or honey)
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 450°. Place rack on bottom level.
Toss cubed sweet potatoes with 2 tbs. olive oil and 1 tsp. salt. Roast at 450° for 20 minutes or until fragrant and caramelizing on bottoms. Toss with a metal spatula and return to oven to roast another 10-15 minutes, until well browned and tender.
Drain the beans and add them to a medium bowl, along with the cilantro. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a small skillet over medium-low heat until they begin to pop and release a heavenly aroma.
Make dressing by combining zest of one lime, juice of two limes, 4 tbs. oil, hot sauce, agave nectar, and a dash of salt in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
When the potatoes are done, let them cool slightly, then add them to the beans and cilantro. Pour the dressing over the potato-bean mixture and toss gently to coat. Taste for salt and add some freshly ground pepper. Place potato-bean mixture over greens, top with feta and pumpkin seeds, and serve.