Eating in season with winter salads

By Alan Miles

I’m always impressed with the great selection of salads at our in-house Organic Café, even in the dead of winter. The Café purchases some grocery items that aren’t in season here in Iowa during the winter months, but the salad selections definitely shift to winter fare.

Jami Kimm

Jami Kimm prepares the salad bar for the lunch rush.

I asked Jami Kimm — aka “CEO of the Salad Bar” — her secrets for making and stocking dozens of delicious salads when the local vegetable patches are all under six inches of snow.

Keep it simple
Jami’s first rule for winter salads: Keep it simple, especially compared to summer salads.

“Since there isn’t a lot of local fresh produce, the base is usually a grain, legume or pasta,” Jami says. “Then add some vegetables, a good dressing and a few spices, and you’re in business.”

Jami listed some of the basics she uses:

  • Grains like rice, bulgur, quinoa, wheat berries and barley
  • Lentils, peas, garbanzos and other beans
  • Pasta, including wheat, rice and buckwheat noodles
  • Winter vegetables available locally, such as squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes and root crops.

The salad bar also uses local and organic produce that’s fresh-frozen during the summer — peppers, corn, and peas, along with strawberries and raspberries for fruit salads. There’s one canned item as well — fiery jalapenos, a Café staple.

Dress it up
Jami keeps her salad dressings simple, too. “It’s often just a little oil, vinegar and spices,” she says, “especially if the ingredients have a lot of flavor.”

Sometimes the spices are just salt and pepper, but she also uses her own spice combinations as well as ready-made blends. One of her favorite blends is Simply Organic Vegetable Grilling Seasoning.

While prepared dressings are sometimes called upon, Jami frequently makes custom dressings by simply adding spices to a mayonnaise or yogurt base. “Part of the fun is trying different spice combos and getting everyone’s reactions,” she says. “After a while you get a feel for what people like.”

Keep things lively
Even when preparing a simple salad, Jami recognizes that looks and variety matter.

“Color is very important, especially in the winter,” she says. “No matter how good a salad tastes, if it isn’t visually appealing, people won’t try it.”

Carrots, peppers, peas and the bright white of cauliflower all help make Café salads visually lively. Jami notes that she sometimes picks spices and seasoning blends that add a little color as well. “It only takes a touch,” she says.

It’s important, especially when offering a selection of eight or more salads as the Café does, to vary as many elements between them as possible. Jami tries to stock different types and textures of salads, dressing variations (creamy vs. vinaigrette, for example), and a range of tastes — sweet, hot, salty, sharp and so on.

Jami also experiments with different salads using tried and true combinations of base ingredients. A few of the combos popular here at Frontier that Jami likes to work with are beans and corn, cauliflower and peas, mushrooms and onions, sauerkraut and carrots, and fruit and yogurt.

An easy winter salad recipe
Here’s a simple winter salad that’s popular at the Café. Jami makes it regularly (with variations, of course).

couscous salad

Couscous Salad
(Serves 4)

1 cup cooked couscous
1/2 cup (or to taste) Newman’s Own Parmesan & Roasted Garlic Dressing
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 cup frozen red peppers, thawed, drained and diced
1 cup diced carrot
1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: Add dressing while couscous is still warm. Mix in other ingredients and season to taste. Chill before serving.

Jami’s tips: It’s easy to change up this basic recipe with other ingredients such as white beans, corn, peas, mushrooms, broccoli — pretty much anything in your refrigerator. You can also vary it by switching dressings. Jami says Mexican works well. She also recommends just trying your favorite salsa for the dressing.

Two dedicated cooks
Jami and Head Chef Liz Hopkins work together to provide about 120 meals a day for Frontier employees. (Meals are subsidized by Frontier — meat entrées are usually $2.85, $2.60 for vegetarian fare — so turnout is good.) They also maintain a cooler of wraps and sandwiches for second- and third-shift employees, oversee the free coffee and popcorn Frontier provides, and stock the commercial snacks and beverages that are available for purchase.

Alan MilesAbout the Author: Alan explores ideas and issues related to a sustainable lifestyle — from cooking and culture to social and environmental responsibility. He enjoys Shakespeare, but not as much as college basketball (Go Hawks!). Alan is a family man, liking nothing better than spending time with his wife of 34 years, his four kids and four grandkids.

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