Add a Bit More Green to Your Fall Diet

Posted November 20, 2018 6:33 p.m. EST

Tofu is prepared for baking in New York, Oct. 1, 2018. Baked marinated tofu topping a spinach salad is hearty enough for a full meal. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times)

It’s November, and snow has already fallen in parts of the country. Usually those first snowflakes have people reaching for comforting soups and stews, but some, myself included, may still yearn for lighter fare. Personally, I always want a salad, whatever the weather.

There are many interesting cool-weather salad ingredients. Pleasantly bitter greens, like endive, frisée, radicchio and their colorful chicory cousins, are lovely combined with fruit (apples, pears, citrus) and toasted walnuts. You’ll find them at them available now at farmers markets and in the produce departments of most supermarkets.

But the other day, one of my favorite market stands was offering gorgeous spinach with medium-size crinkled, curly leaves. Freshly picked, this spinach had enough body to stand up to a forceful vinaigrette. You certainly can’t say that about the ubiquitous packaged baby spinach that more or less wilts on contact with dressing. I prefer the larger leaves for a chewy salad with crunch.

If you can’t find hearty spinach leaves like that, choose another kind of green with texture, such as Japanese jagged-edged mizuna, a member of the mustard family; Napa cabbage, sliced into wide ribbons; or large arugula leaves. A mix of several kinds of sturdy greens is another possibility.

I considered what kind of salad to make: Of course, there’s the classic spinach salad tossed with crisp sizzled bacon and a hot dressing made in the skillet with bacon fat and cider vinegar. I often serve a spinach salad dressed with a zippy mustard vinaigrette, chopped hard-cooked egg and shavings of Gruyère cheese or provolone. With or without bacon, it makes a great first course or light lunch. Delicious as those may be, I craved something with a fresher feel.

On this particular day, I wanted a salad substantial enough to be a main course, and came up with this one, which takes cues from Japan. I enhanced the gingery, garlicky dressing with miso, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and splash of sake for good measure. For texture, I added chopped cucumber, thinly sliced daikon radish and edamame beans, along with a shower of sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanuts. To make it even more of a meal, I tucked in slices of baked marinated firm tofu.

The hearty, handsome salad fulfilled the urge for something green, healthy, vegetarian and light, even with a chill in the air. For that matter, though, this exceedingly satisfying spinach salad could easily be served year-round.

Spinach and Tofu Salad

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 45 minutes

For the tofu and marinade:

1/2 pound firm tofu

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon grated ginger

Pinch of cayenne

For the salad:

8 ounces medium spinach leaves

2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons white or red miso

1/2 teaspoon grated garlic (from about 2 to 3 cloves)

1 teaspoon grated ginger (from a peeled 1-inch piece)

1 cup chopped cucumber

1 cup thinly sliced daikon radish

1 cup frozen edamame, thawed

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons roasted peanuts

Pinch of kosher salt or flaky sea salt

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice tofu into 1-by-2-inch pieces about 1/4-inch thick and place in a deep bowl or on a platter.

2. Make the marinade: In a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sake, brown sugar, ginger and cayenne. Pour marinade over tofu slices to coat well. Leave in marinade for at least 15 minutes. (You may marinate the tofu up to 24 hours in advance.)

3. While the tofu marinates, pick over spinach leaves and remove any tough stems. Swish the spinach in a deep bowl of cold water. Lift leaves from water into a colander. If you see any sand in the water, repeat up to 3 times, using fresh water each time. Drain well and dry spinach, then wrap in a kitchen towel and refrigerate until ready to use. (You may wash the spinach up to 24 hours in advance.)

4. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, brown sugar, sesame oil, vegetable oil, soy sauce, miso, garlic and ginger.

5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and arrange the tofu pieces in a single layer. Spoon remaining marinade over tofu. Bake, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until slightly crisped. Remove and leave at room temperature.

6. To make the salad, arrange spinach in a low, wide salad bowl or on a deep platter. Scatter cucumber, daikon and edamame over spinach, then sprinkle with sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanuts. Tuck slices of tofu here and there.

7. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over everything, then drizzle salad with dressing and serve.