Fall colors enliven salads, plus savory pull-apart bread you need to make

Quinoa and cauliflower fall salad, styled by Mark Graham, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in Chicago.  (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Credit: E. Jason Wambsgans

Credit: E. Jason Wambsgans

Quinoa and cauliflower fall salad, styled by Mark Graham, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in Chicago. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

I already miss the vine-ripened tomato and basil salads of the warmer months. Turning out fall salads proves more challenging, but not at all impossible.

Think fall colors. Reds from radicchio and red grapes. Greens from spinach and peppery arugula. Golds from corn and sauteed onions. Fry those last of the garden tomatoes that never ripened. This is the time of the year for adding spice, such as Sriracha and crushed red pepper flakes, to salads. Break out the bacon fat for sauteing elements of the salad or roasting vegetables.

I keep an arsenal of salad goodies on hand to lure me into the kitchen: great croutons, nuts and seeds, homemade dressings and bags of prepped greens.

Adding a warm element to a salad suits the season. Think roasted shreds of chicken, turkey and pork. When roasting potatoes or vegetables, I cook extra just to tuck away for a salad; they’ll reheat nicely in the microwave.

Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, Alaska, arranges perfectly fried green tomatoes over a bed of local arugula. It ups the ante with a dressing of Sriracha mayonnaise. I employ a simple cornmeal coating and a butter and oil medium for crisping up green tomatoes. A scattering of cherry tomatoes, crisp cornbread croutons seasoned with black pepper, and a shower of chives complete the salad.

I love the colorful quinoa salad that follows for fall dinners and all holiday entertaining from Halloween to Christmas. The salad combines variations of red, from the protein-friendly quinoa to the crunchy radicchio and sweet red grapes. The recipe serves eight but keeps well for several days in the refrigerator. Serve it warm with roasted chicken or turkey on top. A handful of roasted nuts adds crunch in their stead.

The roasted onion vinaigrette recipe makes everyone a successful salad-maker. I keep a jar of bacon fat, rendered from our Sunday morning treat, to toss with sliced onions before roasting. The onions are used to flavor the dressing and can be added to salads for an amazing topping.

At our house, we serve hot and crusty bread alongside a great salad and call it dinner. The cheese-y pull-apart loaf that follows satisfies every time.


Fried tomato fall salad, styled by Mark Graham, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in Chicago.  (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Credit: E. Jason Wambsgans

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Credit: E. Jason Wambsgans


Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

If green tomatoes are unavailable, you can use firm, unripe red tomatoes or large tomatillos. For a less spicy salad, substitute bottled Caesar or sun-dried tomato dressing for the Sriracha mayonnaise.

3 to 4 medium-size green tomatoes, 12 ounces total

1 egg

1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup cornmeal

Salt, freshly ground pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 to 2 tablespoons butter

4 cups baby arugula or mixed baby greens

1 cup halved yellow or red cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup sliced fresh chives

1/2 cup cornbread croutons, see recipe

Sriracha mayonnaise, recipe follows

1. Slice green tomatoes into 1/2-inch thick slices. Crack egg into a small dish and beat with milk to blend. Put cornmeal and 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper into another small dish. Sprinkle the tomato slices with salt and pepper, then dip into the egg to coat on all sides. Then dip each slice into the cornmeal and turn to coat all sides with cornmeal. Set on a plate while the pan heats.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon each oil and butter. As soon as butter melts, and working in batches, add battered tomato slices in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, turning once with a spatula, until golden brown on both sides and tomatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate while you fry the remaining tomatoes, adding more oil and butter as needed.

3. Arrange arugula on a platter. Top with the warm fried tomatoes. Sprinkle with cherry tomatoes and chives. Sprinkle with croutons. Use a squeeze bottle or fork to drizzle Sriracha mayonnaise generously over everything. Serve.

Cornbread croutons: Use cornbread from the bakery or a mix. Cut 4 thick cornbread squares, about 8 ounces total, into 1 inch pieces. You'll have about 4 cups. Put cubes onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle cubes with coarse salt, dried oregano and black pepper. Bake in 425 degree oven until crusty brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool. Store in foil.

Sriracha mayonnaise: Mix 1/4 cup mayonnaise and 2 to 3 tablespoons Sriracha in a small dish. Refrigerate covered.

Nutrition information per serving: 336 calories, 22 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 84 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 10 g sugar, 7 g protein, 861 mg sodium, 3 g fiber


Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Makes: 8 servings

I love the bounce of riced cauliflower. You can use fresh cauliflower florets if desired. I use a food processor with the metal blade, pulsing until the florets are reduced to rice-size bits. Serve topped with shredded roast chicken or toasted chopped nuts for extra protein.

1 cup red quinoa, well-rinsed


Half of a 32-ounce package frozen riced cauliflower, about 4 cups, thawed

5 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 to 1//2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup chopped pitted dates or dried apricots

1/3 cup currants or chopped dark raisins

Juice and finely grated zest from 1 large lemon

1 small bunch green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced (green part, too)

1/2 head radicchio, cored, very thinly sliced, about 2 cups

2 cups halved red seedless grapes

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Put quinoa and 2 cups water into a large saucepan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and heat to boil. Cover pan and simmer over low heat until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in cauliflower and let steam, 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander.

2. Meanwhile, mix vinegar, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper and pepper flakes in the bottom of a large bowl. Add quinoa-cauliflower mixture, dates, currants, lemon juice and lemon zest. Mix well. Let stand about 10 minutes.

3. Just before serving, stir in onions, radicchio, grapes and cilantro. Taste for salt, Serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 225 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 36 g carbohydrates, 16 g sugar, 5 g protein, 365 mg sodium, 5 g fiber


Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Makes: about 1 1/2 cups

I love this dressing on spinach salad tossed with crumbled cooked bacon and the remaining roasted onions.

2 large sweet onions, 1 pound total, halved, thinly sliced, about 4 cups

1 to 2 tablespoons bacon fat, melted, or vegetable oil


2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spread onions on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Toss with bacon fat or vegetable oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast in oven, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender, about 25 minutes. Cool.

2. Put olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper into a blender. Blend smooth. Add half of the onions (about 1/2 cup); process until finely chopped. Refrigerate covered. Use at room temperature.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 60 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 0 g protein, 98 mg sodium, 0 g fiber


Prep: 15 minutes

Cooks: 15 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

Garnish with nasturtium blossoms, if you have them in the garden, for a colorful surprise.

1 unsliced oval loaf (about 1 pound) sourdough bread

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Coarse salt

2 cups shredded Gouda cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Sriracha mayonnaise, see recipe

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Use a serrated bread knife to cut the loaf into 1-inch wide slices, but do not cut all the way through the bread. The slices will still be attached. Turn the loaf, and slice again to make 1-inch sections still attached to the bottom crust of the bread. Place on a sheet of foil on a baking sheet.

2. Mix the melted butter and garlic in a small dish; drizzle evenly over the bread, so that it flows into the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle with salt. Smoosh the cheese down in between the bread pieces; sprinkle some over the top.

3. Bake until the cheese is melted and golden and bread is crusty, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with chives. Drizzle generously with Sriracha mayo. Serve hot.

Nutrition information per serving: 513 calories, 37 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 134 mg cholesterol, 30 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 13 g protein, 759 mg sodium, 2 g fiber