Candied Walnuts make this salad special Credit: Sandy Oliver

All that wonderful feasting over the recent holidays has left us with happy memories and probably a few extra pounds. And of course we know we ought to eat more vegetables. So the question is how to motivate ourselves to tackle vegetable preparation when dreary winter inspires fast and fatty food instead.

Probably aiming for impossibly delicious combinations that reward the effort like this blend of beet, feta and candied walnuts over greens. This salad is hearty enough to be a substantial part of the meal and not a green afterthought to be dutifully eaten.

Sure, not everyone likes beets, but how about steamed or roasted carrots instead? If you don’t have feta, crumble some goat cheese over the salad. Mixed greens are terrific, and if you like arugula, that is even better. As a topping, finely chopped candied walnuts add crunch with a wonderful combination of toasted nuts and sweetness. Vinaigrette, or a drizzle of olive oil and rice or malt vinegar, is all the dressing needs. Don’t forget salt and pepper.

The other thing you can do to help yourself eat more vegetables is to keep some on-hand already cooked so you aren’t starting from scratch each mealtime. I happen to love beets, so a container of two or three large, cooked beets is very handy. Same thing with carrots, Brussels sprouts, steamed cauliflower or roasted winter squash can be added to whatever you are putting together, except, of course, dessert.

What sold me on the candied walnuts was how easy they were to prepare. Usually the idea of candying leaves me with fear of burnt sugar, sticky messes and fiddling around with a candy thermometer. Not these nuts. You need a no-stick pan (a well-seasoned cast-iron pan works just fine) and about 10 minutes. I made a batch, and only a tablespoon or so of nuts finely chopped goes a long way, so this recipe will give you enough for several salads if you don’t end up snacking on them instead.

All the salad requires is assembly: greens with the cooked vegetables cut up and distributed over them, a sprinkle of the cheese, then the chopped nuts, and finally the dressing. Here is how to candy the nuts.

Candied Walnuts

Yields about 1 cup

1 cup of walnut pieces

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon butter

1. Put all the ingredients into a nonstick pan, and put over medium heat.

2. Let the butter begin to melt, then stir gently as the sugar melts.

3. Flip the nuts over and continue to stir until they are coated and the bottom of the pan looks clean, about 5-8 minutes.

4. Cool the nuts on a parchment paper covered surface, separating them.

5. Store in a tightly covered container for use as needed.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...