Right at this moment, it is 20 below zero outside. The windchill is -43F, and the high today is a balmy -4.
In other words, it is January in Minnesota. And while this kind of weather does make you vaguely wonder how life can exist here, it is also pretty great – after the thaw we had two weeks ago – to feel like we’re getting a spot of normal weather.
In case you don’t live in such a frigid place, here are some things to know about this type of weather:
Yes, there is still a palpable difference between temperatures when you get lower than 32F. Sure, it all feels freezing, but not at all the same level of freezing. 5 degrees above feels downright vernal after a spell of -15. When it’s around 10 or 15 below, salt actually stops working to melt ice. It’s kind of funny. When it gets really, really cold you can toss a cupful of water up in the air, and it will freeze before it makes it back down to the earth.
The best way to respond is to go outside in spite of the cold, just be sure all of your skin is covered and that everything you’re wearing is thick and wooly. Then, make some type of remark to everyone you meet about how arctic explorers would be overjoyed to have such a pleasantly warm day.
On a related note, you must learn to recognize everyone by their hats and puffy coats because you can’t really see faces. You need boots that are in a whole different league, preferably made of moose skin. The long fur coats you inherited from your grandmother stop looking like a politically incorrect bit of fashion history and instead look like an extremely reasonable and adaptive way of dressing.
Also, all meals become slow-cooked stews. Definitely not salads.
And yet, I couldn’t help myself from sharing this one with you in spite of the weather because it’s become such a favorite.
For the most part in my kitchen, salads are creatures of whim, not foresight. They are Macgyvered, not planned. I compose them from whatever I find when I take a look at what I have that could be tossed with dressing.
In spring this may be young greens and radishes, or peas with dill and feta. Midsummer salads become wild tangles of lettuces and berries and cucumbers and herbs and summer squash and corn and peaches, and, and, and. Towards summer’s end salads are tomatoes garnished with more tomatoes. When winter reaches its deepest chill, I like to combine any leftover roasted vegetables I have with thinly sliced kale or cabbage or other hearty greens.
This salad did come about basically the same way, that is by happy accident. But it hit the spot so perfectly in the bullseye that I have since started buying the ingredients specifically to make it again. Which is truly something.
This salad follows the formula that many of the most satisfying salads do, something fresh, something sweet, something salty, something crunchy, something soft, something juicy.
Here the arugula is bracingly sharp and peppery, in diametric opposition to the mild creamy flesh of the delicata squash. The pomegranate arils twinkle and burst in your mouth with a tart pop of juice while the toasty pine nuts – remarkably similar in size and shape – gently crunch. Then there’s the cheese shavings, spare but luxurious, alluring, like just a peek a fine lace from behind a hem, it doesn’t take much to seduce, but seduce it does. Use a high quality hard cheese, you won’t regret it. (A few slices of avocado and pinches of sea salt make a reasonable substitute in spirit if not in flavor, if you can’t have dairy.)
A lemon-maple dressing, equal parts syrupy, acidic, floral, and grassy, (and 100% sunny yellow) pulls together all these opposing parts into something unified and glorious (and so pretty!).
Something which you’ll want to be sure you prepare in double or even triple quantities so you can have it again tomorrow. Even if it’s still cold enough to freeze your nose off.
Arugula Salad with Delicata, Pomegranate, and Pine Nuts (serves about 4)
- 1 medium size delicata squash (if you can’t find delicata you can sub a different winter squash, just peel it and cut it into small chunks)
- 4 generous handfuls of arugula
- a generous 1/4 cup pine nuts
- the arils from 1/2 of a pomegranate (about 1/2 cup)
- a pungent, hard cheese (like Parmesan or an aged goat cheese) for shaving
- 2 Tbs. fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 3 Tbs. olive oil
- a pinch of salt
- 2 tsp. maple syrup
- Heat your oven to 425F. Wash and halve the delicata squash lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Cut each squash half into lots of little half moons, a bit over a quarter-inch thick. Toss them with some olive oil and salt and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake, flipping halfway through, until they are caramelized and tender, about 20 minutes.
- While the squash is roasting, put the pine nuts in a separate baking dish and pop them in the oven for just about 5-8 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant.
- Let both the squash and pine nuts cool for a little bit. (I like to use them when they’re still slightly warm, though.)
- While they are cooling, whisk together the lemon juice, 3 Tbs. olive oil, maple syrup and pinch of salt. Then toss the squash with about 1/3 of this dressing.
- In a large salad bowl or serving platter, combine the arugula with the squash and pomegranate. Add more dressing to taste and toss. Then, add the pine nuts. Use a vegetable peeler to shave pieces of cheese over the top of the salad (however much you want to use – somedays I use very little while other days I’m a bit more heavy handed). Toss again gently, and serve.