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How-To

Warm Salads for Dinner

Grab a skillet and dress up crisp greens with bright, warming flavors

Fine Cooking Issue 74
Photos: Scott Phillips
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While I love Caesar and Cobb salads, I won’t make or order one as a main course for dinner. A salad may do for lunch, but in the evening, a meal centered around greens, especially cold ones, can feel more like a diet than a dinner. But I’ve found that salads can take on dinner proportions with a few warming additions, like sautéed pork or chicken, or even starchy vegetables  like potatoes. A warm vinaigrette brings the sauté and the greens together, giving the finished dish the dressiness of a composed salad and the simplicity of a one-pot meal.

Prepare the toppings for these salads just as you would a stir-fry. Complete all of your peeling and chopping beforehand because things move quickly once you start cooking. Be sure to slice vegetables and meats uniformly so that they cook evenly. Set a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, let it get good and hot, and then sauté the meat and vegetables, stirring often, until they’re just cooked through.

Whisk up the vinaigrette and then warm it in the pan. Much like a pan sauce, the vinaigrette will pick up the flavors left behind on the bottom of the pan from the stir-fry. The heat of the skillet may break the emulsion of the vinaigrette, but that’s fine.

Wilt the greens, but don’t let them get soggy. With most salads, I generally like to toss the greens with the toppings before serving. But for these salads, I alter my traditional approach to adjust for their delicate make-up. In a large bowl, I dress the greens with about half of the vinaigrette to just wilt them. Then I set the greens on dinner plates and top with the sautéed vegetables and meats. A drizzle of the vinaigrette provides the crowning touch for these salads, which are pretty, but just as important, plenty filling, too.

Key steps to vibrant warm salads

1. First, sauté the toppings. The cooking moves quickly, so be sure to prep all your ingredients in advance.
2. Use the same skillet to warm the vinaigrette, which will pick up flavors left in the bottom of the pan.
3. Wilt the greens with about half of the warm vinaigrette, tossing to coat the greens evenly.
4. Arrange the greens on plates and add the toppings; then drizzle the remaining dressing on the finished salads.

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