Brown butter salad is my new fall superhero

A vegetable-forward side with big main-dish energy.

Published November 10, 2019 6:59PM (EST)

Food stylist: Yossy Are. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine (Rocky Luten/Food52)
Food stylist: Yossy Are. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine (Rocky Luten/Food52)

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There’s something about vegetables drizzled in toasty, golden butter that adds a level of coziness with which oil just can’t compete. Don’t get me wrong; I love olive oil. But I might love brown butter more. Though often reserved for baking—looking at you, brown butter blondies—brown butter complements savory food in a manner that is distinctly delightful. Pour it over meaty tomatoes, stir it into sweet raw corn, toss fat gnocchi with the stuff: The possibilities are endless.

But here I propose that you go one step further with your savory brown butter applications: Instead of drizzling it over ingredients straight, treat brown butter like olive oil in salad dressing.

When done properly (let those milk solids darken, people!), brown butter takes about six to eight minutes over medium heat—this will vary depending on the intensity of your stove, so it’s best to babysit that butter. Toss the warm, nutty, just-browned butter with freshly cracked cumin and fennel seeds to open up their flavor, then get whisking. With lemon juice, honey, and Dijon mustard, to be exact. Plenty of salt and pepper, too.

Since the dressing is served warm, you’ll want to think of this salad less like a crisp and crunchy bowl of greens, and more like a vegetable dish you’d find in a restaurant—the classic French dish leeks vinaigrette, for example. I like rainbow carrots roasted with olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and plenty of salt as a base to this dish, but parsnips, fennel, sweet potatoes, and winter squash work quite well, too. Bake until fork tender and then let them hang out, as this isn’t a dish you need to serve directly from the oven.

Warm dressing also means you’ll need to steer away from delicate greens that wilt easily like arugula, and move to something heartier, like radicchio. Chicories like radicchio, Belgian and red Beligian endive, and escarole are bitter and much firmer than the average lettuce leaf. They stand up to being tossed in warm sauce and the bitterness helps cut through the dressing, which is quite rich.

To tie this salad together, turn to teeny beluga lentils (or slightly less teeny French lentils) for protein and well-toasted almonds for crunch. I’m not saying you need to serve this salad with some good bread to mop up any leftover lemony, brown buttery dressing, but I’m not not saying that either.

Fall Salad With Lemony Brown Butter Vinaigrette
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

1/4 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound rainbow carrots, scrubbed clean and halved, quartered if large
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup beluga or French lentils
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, crushed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 head treviso radicchio, regular radicchio, or another chicory
1/2 cup mixed fresh tender herbs like parsley, cilantro, mint, or dill, torn or roughly chopped
Flaky sea salt
Toast, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread almonds on a sheet pan and bake until fragrant and toasty, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. When cool, use a small bowl to gently crush. Turn up the oven to 425°F.

2. Meanwhile, toss carrots with olive oil, Aleppo pepper, a few good pinches of salt, and some pepper. Bake 25-30 minutes, until carrots are tender.

3. While carrots bake, bring a small saucepan of salted water to boil. Cook lentils until tender, about 12-15 minutes. Drain and set aside in a small bowl.

4. Wipe out the saucepan you cooked lentils in and melt butter over medium heat. Continue to cook until butter starts foaming, bubbling, then turns starts to golden brown and smell nutty, about 6 minutes. Use a heatproof spatula to scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and immediately add crushed cumin and fennel seeds.

5. Whisk lemon juice, half the lemon zest, mustard, and honey into butter mixture. Add half the dressing to the bowl with lentils and season with salt and pepper.

6. Lay carrots and radicchio in a shallow bowl and spoon remaining dressing over. Spoon lentils over, letting some fall in between the leaves and carrots and others nestled inside the leaves. Top with herbs, remaining lemon zest, crushed almonds, and flaky sea salt. Serve with toast.

By Rebecca Firkser

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