Growing produce for salads in the winter can be a tricky business. First off, there are only a few places in the US where the weather is consistently warm enough to grow salad greens. And even in those regions, it is unusual to go more than a few weeks without having some kind of weather issue damage field production. There is also greenhouse growing during the winter for tomatoes, cucumbers, and some lettuce. The best advice, however, for happy January salads is to use what Mother Nature offers in the winter.
I’m not saying the usual salad suspects are wholly absent. Tomatoes, particularly cherry, are widely available and actually quite good in the winter courtesy of greenhouse and import production. The types of greens that are in the popular baby salad blends will change to hardier varieties in the winter. Provided that you are flexible with your choices, you will find a limited, but serviceable selection of full sized leafy greens to choose from. The biggest challenges to summer style salads in the winter are variety and consistency, but here are a few suggestions for in season produce that can fill in the gaps:
Citrus: Citrus can provide a sweet and acidic kick to salads in the same way tomatoes do to summer salads. Among the best of the January offerings are blood oranges. This citrus variety usually makes a late appearance in the citrus season, but is well worth the wait. The sweet, tart, and complex flavor with a hint of raspberry along with the dramatic, dark red color makes a wonderful addition to any salad.
Tropical Produce: As much of the northern hemisphere is shrouded in winter, production along the equator, as well as throughout South America, is as strong as ever. This makes for abundance in tropical fruits and vegetables produced in these countries, which are then shipped into the US. Mangoes start to peak in production later in the spring. Avocado production overlaps in several countries, so supplies are also very strong.
Jicama: Another Central American salad favorite, this sweet tropical tuber is a great addition to winter salads for color and flavor. Not to mention that it provides a very satisfying crunch. It is also pound-for-pound a great vegetable value in the winter at a time when most salad ingredient pricing can change with the weather.
There are other additions to spruce up your winter salads like dried fruit and nuts, but citrus and tropical fruits and vegetables are certainly the best for January. Check out our list of healthy winter salad combinations.