Salads offer lively break from heavy holiday dishes

As visions of creamed-this and buttery-that dance across our Christmas tables, what we really could use is a nice salad.

With all those beloved, rich dishes for Christmas dinner, a salad with some brightness will refresh our palates, just in time for the rich dessert.

But a salad of mixed greens and grape tomatoes, the everyday workhorse, just isn’t going to cut it for Christmas, even if it’s color-coordinated with the holiday. So I’m turning to a couple of my favorite salads from restaurants, and both have seasonal aspects that work well for this time of year.

One salad makes roasted carrots and avocado the stars; the other combines marinated beet and thin-sliced green cabbage — Christmas colors, conveniently — for a completely different sort of beet salad, like slaw in vinaigrette with quick pickles.

Chad Meier, chef and co-owner of Meraki in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, said of the beet salad: “I like this dish because of the way it eats. It’s pretty and messy at the same time. Each bite can be a little different. It’s nothing special, in terms of technique or ingredients. It just takes a little love and patience to bring out the best in these ingredients.”

The recipe is adapted from the “Beyond Nose to Tail” cookbook by Fergus Henderson, one of Meier’s favorite chefs for “the way he writes his recipes and talks about food, the simplicity and integrity of ingredients.”

Meier tends to “manipulate ingredients a little to help heighten what they are. … The vinegar brightens the beet’s flesh and preserves (it), the citrus pulls out notes that are in the beet itself, the allspice and coriander help with the earthy depth of the beet, etc.”

Tyler Mason said he cooks seasonally at his restaurant, Wayward Kitchen and Bar in Walker’s Point, “but this salad works year-round. It is equally enjoyable now as a fall-winter salad but also great in summer with grilled chicken on the patio. It’s one of the few year-round dishes” served at the restaurant.

Mason came up with the salad for something rustic to add to his menu. “I wanted to serve a salad that wasn’t just greens with toppings,” he said. “All of these ingredients get along. Peppery arugula, creamy avocado, earthy cumin carrots, crunch and Parm.”



The carrots, dressing and croutons can be prepared at least a day or two in advance, and then the salad assembled shortly before serving; just hold the croutons in an air-tight container at room temperature. This salad by chef Tyler Mason is on the menu at Wayward Kitchen; Mason owns the restaurant with his wife, Megan.

Makes 6 servings

Tested by Carol Deptolla


4 large carrots (1 to 1 1/4 pounds)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin



Seasoned croutons (see note)

2 cups baby arugula

2 ripe avocados

Red wine vinaigrette:

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

2/3 cup olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pinch of salt and pepper

Shaved Parmesan for garnish (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Peel carrots and cut into medium sticks, 1/4 inch thick and about 1/2 inch across and 2 inches long, depending on size of carrots. Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium bowl and whisk in cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper or to taste. Add carrots and toss to coat. Place in one layer on a baking sheet and roast in preheated oven 12 to 15 minutes, until just tender. Cool to room temperature.

Make the red wine vinaigrette: Place vinegar, 2/3 cup oil, lemon juice, honey, mustard, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk until blended. It will make about 1 1/2 cups, more than will be needed for this recipe. Reserve the rest for another use.

Wash, drain and pat dry the arugula. In a large bowl, combine carrots, arugula and croutons. Dress lightly with vinaigrette, adding about 2 tablespoons and tossing. Add thick slices of avocado, dressing carefully not to break them apart. Mound on a plate and garnish with shaved Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Note: If you want to make your own seasoned croutons instead of buying them, drizzle 2 cups of cubed or torn baguette with 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until crisp. Let cool before adding to the salad.


Although this recipe from Meraki chef and co-owner Chad Meier has a number of steps, the beets and dressing can be prepared days — or a week — in advance; other elements can be prepared earlier in the day it will be served and then assembled shortly before dinner. Meier and his wife, Malissa, opened the restaurant a year ago.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Tested by Carol Deptolla



1 tablespoon coriander seeds

Zest and juice of 1 lemon (see note)

Zest and juice of 1 orange (see note)

2 cups red wine vinegar (or red banyuls vinegar)

2 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

8 whole allspice seeds

2 bay leaves

1 pound beets (2 large or 3 medium)

Tarragon vinaigrette:

2 to 3 tablespoons whole-grain or other mustard

1/3 cup tarragon vinegar (see note)

1 fresh shallot, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sugar


1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Fresh tarragon leaves from 3 to 6 sprigs, chopped

Ground black pepper

1 cup vegetable oil

Whipped quark:

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup plain quark

1 small white onion such as Vidalia or Walla Walla

1/2 medium head green cabbage

1/2 bunch parsley, chopped roughly

Make the beets: Toast coriander seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes, and transfer seeds to a medium saucepan. Toast lemon and orange zest in same skillet over medium heat, about 2 minutes. Add to saucepan. Add vinegar, water, sugar, salt, citrus juice, peppercorns, allspice and bay leaves to saucepan, stir briefly to begin dissolving sugar and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let pan sit, covered, an hour or so.

While brine is sitting, peel beets and slice thin on a mandoline or by hand into strips that are about 1/16 inch thick, 1/4 inch wide and as long as possible. Place in a large pot.

When brine is finished steeping, strain liquid over the beets to remove the spices. If you care to, you can gather the spices into a muslin sachet or cheesecloth to keep with the beets in the liquid later while they’re being stored.

Prepare an ice bath in the sink or a larger pan for cooling the beets later: a mix of ice, water and a tablespoon of salt. Bring beets and liquid to a slow simmer uncovered so you can keep an eye on them. You are looking for them to have some give but to still have crunch; test the beets as they go. If the slices are 1/16 inch thick, it could take as little as 2 to 3 minutes after coming to a slow simmer. Once you find that magic spot of crunch and give, quickly scoop the beets from the pan into a bowl and set them in the ice bath.

Once beets are cooled, they are ready to eat but will get better with age as they spend time in their cooled brine, especially if you place the reserved spice sachet in the brine.

Make tarragon vinaigrette: Place in a medium bowl the mustard, vinegar, shallot, sugar, salt to taste, parsley, tarragon and black pepper to taste. Pour in the vegetable oil, whisking all the while until combined.

Make the whipped quark: Whip the cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it holds soft peaks. Whip quark in a stand mixer or in another bowl with an electric mixer until it lightens. Add whipped cream together with quark until combined.

Assemble salad: Slice onion as thin as possible and plunge into a medium bowl of ice water to crisp the onion a little and pull out some of the sulfites. Let it sit a few minutes, then drain well.

Core and slice the cabbage, again as thin as possible.

Drain beets well. Place about half the vinaigrette in a large bowl. Add cabbage, onions and beets and mix together gently with your hands or two large spoons. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper if necessary.

Mound the salad in a bowl or on a large plate or platter. On it or next to it, place a good dollop of the whipped quark, enough for the size of the salad. (You will have quark left over; it can be passed on the side.) Last, drop the roughly chopped parsley over the top like falling snow. The parsley really makes this dish, so be generous. Serve immediately.

Notes: A Y-peeler efficiently removes citrus zest with minimal white pith. Tarragon vinegar can be found in many grocery stores, but cooks can make their own by steeping 1 cup of bruised fresh tarragon sprigs in 2 cups of heated cider or white wine vinegar and letting it stand for at least several days. In making the vinaigrette, Meier said he likes to “go heavy” on the black pepper.

Quark, a soft, tangy cheese similar to cream cheese, can be found at Clock Shadow Creamery, cheese markets and some grocers.

Once the salad sits for a while, an hour or so, the beets will begin to color the cabbage, so it’s best to serve the salad soon after assembly.