Think "fall," and feasting food will likely come to mind: plump roast chickens with the crispiest potatoes, plush bread rolls slathered with butter and jam, rich baked mac and cheeses with crunchy toppings, creamed anything. These cozy, sharing-size meals are one of the season's greatest hallmarks, as the weather cools down and loved ones gather together most weekends.
But in my opinion, peak fall food is actually ... salad. I know what you're thinking, but hear me out!
- Reason #1: the produce. Though sweet corn, crunchy zucchini, and juicy, flavorful tomatoes are no longer available at the farmers market, there's still plenty of great stuff. (Hearty kale! Sweet-savory squash! Zingy leeks and onions! Wild mushrooms! Velvety carrots and parsnips and rutabaga, oh my!)
- Reason #2: the ease. With all of the rushing around (and cooking for feasts) you'll have to do during back-to-school season and beyond, a salad's a reliable and nourishing 30ish-minute meal that won't stress you out on even the busiest of weeknights.
- Reason #3: the adaptability. Salads welcome all things roasted, toasted, frittered, fried, ribboned, and roughly chopped. Contrasting textures and temperatures are a blessing in a salad, which means you absolutely don't need to stick to fully cold components. You can also riff and swap and add and subtract ingredients based on what's in your fridge and pantry, to arrive at the combo you like best.
- Reason #4: the shareability. Salads take hardly any more effort to scale up to feed a big crowd—or just yourself, for a week of lunches.
Have I convinced you yet?
Turns out, chef and cookbook author, Paul Kahan—of Chicago's avec, Blackbird, and The Publican—shares my point of view. Kahan's newest book, Cooking for Good Times, focuses around easy-breezy, low-key, seasonal food to share with friends (or to just save for great leftovers).
In Kahan's mind, "You can cook up a big batch of grains—quinoa, farro, basmati rice, you name it—and depending on what time of year it is, toss them with charred cauliflower and orange segments, or maybe some roasted corn and peaches. Then you pick a small assortment of dishes and you're done. It could be one big dish and two small. Or three or four salads and a dip—you don't always need a big hunk of meat." Kahan goes on: "There's not a whole lot else to say about these recipes except that they're ridiculously simple to make and they put to use flavor combinations that are all great seasonal marriages. Everything just makes sense, time and flavor-wise. Trust me, just make 'em."
So, there you have it. This fall, we're absolutely making three of Kahan's no-fuss, all-flavor salad recipes, and giving you a baker's dozen more of the tried-and-true salads we toss together this time of year. Here are our 16 best fall salad recipes, perfect for the chillier, cozier days ahead.
1. Panzanella with Roasted Leeks, Pecans & Apples
Panzanella, or bread salad, is an incredible fall salad choice for its comforting heft, its deliciousness at any temperature, and its natural affinity for taking on big, bold flavors. In this case, Paul Kahan thickly slices and roasts leeks till they're buttery and just slightly oniony, then combines them with crisp apple, endive, pecans, and a zingy shallot dressing. There's also crumbled blue cheese at the end, for good measure.
2. Charred Radicchio with Arugula, Cherries & Parmigiano
This hearty radicchio salad—with peppery arugula, umami-rich Parmesan, and sweet-sour cherries—may seem like a summer salad at first blush. But Kahan writes that pear and apple are equally complementary, appropriately autumnal stand-ins for the stone front. The radicchio base for the salad gets a good char from a roaring-hot pan before mingling with the rest of the ingredients, pairing perfectly with the sweet crunch from whatever fruit you use.
3. Grains with Roasted Cauliflower, Black Olives & Oranges
Nutty, tender grains; bright, juicy orange; and briny, punchy black olives work together harmoniously in yet another hit from Kahan. Roasted cauliflower adds some toasty, buttery elements, and torn mint layers even more brightness and personality to the mix. This is an all-year-round salad, but especially good in the fall and winter.
4. Roasted Apple & Fennel Salad With Toasted Hazelnuts & Goat Cheese
Apples and fennel go together like peanut butter and jelly—if peanut butter and jelly also tasted great roasted and topped with lemon zest, goat cheese, chopped hazelnuts, and herbs. This salad screams "fall," and in turn we scream "salad."
5. Sautéed Dates With Roasted Butternut Squash, Wheatberries And Blue Cheese
This is a "hearty salad for sharing with family and friends," writes recipe developer and cookbook author Hetty McKinnon. Sweet, sticky Medjool dates and butternut squash roasted with a pinch of cinnamon get uplifted with blue cheese, arugula, plenty of parsley, and wheat berry grains. This one's especially good for making ahead (not-sad desk lunch, anyone?).
6. Broccoli Salad With Pesto, Apples & Walnuts
Move over, cabbage—there's a new slaw superstar in town. Broccoli gets shaved thinly and marinated in an herbal pesto dressing, then tossed with slices of crunchy Honeycrisp apple and chopped walnuts. It's hardy and satisfying on its own or as a side.
7. Northern Spy's Kale Salad
This Genius kale salad has been a Food52 favorite for years—like, eight years—because it's so good. Winter squash, kale, apples, two kinds of sharped aged cheese, and chopped almonds come together with a really simple lemon vinaigrette, and transcend each individual ingredient. We can't wait to make this one over, and over, and over again this fall.
8. Roasted Butternut Squash & Toasted Farro Salad With Curried Brown Butter
Squash is a fall salad staple—there's no doubt about it. But what do you do when it's starting to get a little one-note? Add a bunch of sweet shallots and roast the heck out of the squash, then douse it all with irresistibly toasty, complex, curry-inflected brown butter. Some golden raisins, farro, chopped nuts, and a spicy, fresh green, and you're golden (literally).
9. Toro Bravo's Warm Potato Salad With Vinegar & Chorizo
Potato salad is usually a summer kind of thing, but not this one from Portland's Toro Bravo. In their rendition, warm, perfectly crispy slices of roasted Yukon Gold potatoes are glazed with vinegar, topped with sautéed chorizo, onions, and garlic, then flecked with parsley. What results is nothing like the mayo-laden picnic standby, but a sophisticated (and cozy) potato salad with some serious pep.
10. Kale Salad With Salami, Pecorino, And Walnuts
Kale salad, but make it meaty, salty, nutty, ridiculously good. One community member raved that this salad—with spicy salami, sharp pecorino, tart dried cranberries, and a smattering of fruity Aleppo pepper—"definitely changed my thinking about combinations of salad ingredients." Us, too, CM. Us, too.
11. Warm Farro With Mushrooms And Crispy Beets
Mushrooms, we love you! Beets, you're pretty great, too. And together, with nutty-chewy farro, the most epic salad of the season is born. This recipe's as simple as can be, keeps well for several days, and tastes wonderful warm or cold.
12. Joshua McFadden's Bitter Greens Salad With Melted Cheese
A salad—with melted cheese? You better believe it, and from Joshua McFadden, the inventor of the kale salad craze, no less. As it turns out, sturdy radicchio welcomes a stint in the oven, and a snowcap of melty provolone, Taleggio, or fontina, as you please.
13. Everything I Want To Eat Quinoa And Lentil Salad
Recipe developer Sarah Jampel wants to eat: quinoa, avocado, ricotta salata, brown lentils, sweet potato, butternut squash, tempeh, dried cherries, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, scallions, wheat bread, and a smattering of spices to give it all some verve. And we're with her. This salad really has and does it all.
14. Autumn Salad With Horseradish Vinaigrette
A salad that says what it does—thrives in autumn! Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, butternut squash, and white beans are all co-conspirators here, roasted on a sheet pan until tender and then drizzled with a spicy horseradish vinaigrette. Crunchy-sweet pomegranate seeds and bright arugula are great in the mix, too.
15. Carrot and Radicchio Salad with Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette
Kenzi Wilbur, who brought us to this salad, sings its highest praises: "There is no pushing aside of filler ingredients to get to more consequential ones; you could stab recklessly into this thing, blindfolded, and still get a perfect bite." And as it contains roasted carrots, wedges of radicchio, fresh figs, and a "man-sized handful" of pistachios, we can see why.
16. Roasted Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa
Roasted onions as the superstar of a salad? We'll bite. In this recipe, the onions get jammy and roasty and sweet after a trip to the oven, then are layered on top of peppery arugula, parsley, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts. This salad has made onion believers of us, for dang sure.
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