Saturday, February 4, 2012
A Winter Salad by Any Other Name
What shall we call the shreddy salads of winter, the festive haystacks that make the most of root cellar holdings, long-keeping fruits, and the squashes of our season? Slaw fails the task, too burdened by associations with perfunctory and over-dressed deli/burger/picnic sides. A celeri remoulade is a lovely dish of shredded root, denizen of every traiteur's cold case, but the remoulade refers more to the dressing than to the shards of celeri-rave.
One thing I've found: the more I eat with the season, the more I want to eat with the season. We used to pick up a head of red leaf lettuce on nearly every weekly grocery trip, but eventually our enthusiasm for those often leathery leaves shipped in from warmer climes waned. Local hydroponic greens are a reasonable choice, but one that doesn't excite my palate much, these days. I've become more inclined toward broadened ideas of salad, and the shredded type tops my list. This particular one here, of Benriner-ed squash, celery root, and apple, has become a regular in our shreddy salad rotation.
The squash really is the key, and if you're thinking, "Raw squash...?", well, so was I. Would it taste too squashy, or gluey. Let your dubious heart be comforted--neither is the case. I've made this with kabocha and...something else. A small hubbard type, I think. I think any hard winter squash would work. Butternut, for sure. The drier types, like buttercup, maybe not so much, but I could be wrong. The raw squash really has quite a mild flavor, especially in this combination of more assertive tastes. What it does provide is texture, an al dente quality that is almost more pop than crunch--very intriguing, extremely refreshing.
If you are very, very good with a knife you can do this by hand. I used the medium blade on my Benriner mandoline--every kitchen should have one. But watch your fingers! I shredded up roughly equal amounts of squash, celery root, and apple. I mixed up a dressing of cider vinegar, a little honey, oil, salt and a wee bit of pepper. I've been keeping it really local with my oil choices this winter, too. This is becoming easier since local sunflower oils from small producers have started showing up, like those from Smude and Driftless Organics . I love the Smude oil--it's light in texture, but it has a definite presence, and is excellent in salad dressings. I haven't tried the Driftless Organics product.
There's another local oil, a more specialized product, which I have
mentioned recently, and which is produced over in beautiful west central Wisconsin by a very cool couple of guys, Ken Seguine and Jay Gilbertson--that's Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil. The salad pictured here was made using that oil. It has a teasingly nutty aroma, a bit like sesame oil, but less in-your-face. Much more on Ken and Jay and their pumpkin seed saga to come.
I don't really miss the leafy salads that were so delightful in the warmer months. Soon now I'll be starting lettuce seeds in flats, and moving them to a sunny window. In this mild winter March will likely provide the first wild green spriglings of dandelion, sheep sorrel, and cress to fill out a salad of lettuce thinnings, and it will only get better from there. Until then I'm going to enjoy my shreddy salads, my root cellar raw spaghetti, whatever you want to call it. But if you've got a better name for it, please do let me know.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw