Caramelized Cipollini Onions Are the Magic Your Winter Salad Needs

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[Photographs: Matthew and Emily Clifton]

Once the weather turns cold, it becomes harder and harder to keep salads interesting. Most of our favorite add-ins are a distant memory (I'm looking at you, glorious heirloom tomato). A trip down the produce aisle, or even to the farmers market, can feel more like a challenge than an inspiration. But this is when, with a little creative thinking, great ideas are born.

In this case, we decided to pair gorgeously sweet, meltingly tender roasted cipollini onions with red cabbage, bitter chicory, walnuts, and crumbled goat cheese. The combination hits all the notes you want in a hearty salad, with a variety of flavors and textures, from very soft to crispy and crunchy.

Red cabbage, one of our favorite winter vegetables, is completely undeserving of its frumpy reputation. Like a rom-com actress who takes off her glasses and is suddenly a knockout, red cabbage is fantastic when prepared well. The fact that it also happens to be extremely nutritious—it's packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and phytonutrients—is just a bonus. Here, its mildly sweet flavor and crunchy bite bridge the divide between those sweet, soft onions and the bracingly bitter chicory leaves.

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But the star of this salad is definitely the cipollini onions. If you've never tried them, now is the perfect time. Once hard to find, these small, puck-shaped alliums are now popping up all over the place. They have a higher sugar content than regular white or yellow onions, which means that they brown beautifully and turn even sweeter as they caramelize. We often cook them with meat, particularly pork and duck, but in this case, they add depth and variety to the salad bowl.

If you find the onions too difficult to peel, you can plunge them into boiling water for a minute, then drain them and rinse with cold water—you'll find the skins much easier to remove. Once they're peeled, just toss them with oil and a few sprigs of thyme, and throw them in the oven until they're very soft and well browned.

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A note about the cheese: Aged goat cheese, which we recommend here, has a sharper, more pungent flavor that adds a layer of depth to this salad, but fresh goat cheese (chèvre) would be a good substitute. If goat cheese isn't your thing, a mild, creamy blue would be a fine choice, though you could also just leave the cheese out.

This salad would be a great accompaniment to a Thanksgiving turkey or a Christmas roast beef. The only danger is that it might steal the show.