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Why Your Salads Should Be Cutting Out the Middle Man

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If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.

Today: Who needs greens? The Sussmans show us the way to a better salad. 

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A good portion of eating is excavation. I fish out the cooked-forever vegetables in my minestrone, the stewy tomatoes in my pasta. Even this one, deep in committed, intertwined love, gets untangled so I can suck the onions off my fork tines like the sadistic, onion-stealing monster I am. I cut through the brush of most salads only to get to the stuff that collects in the bottom of my bowl. 

And because there exists a market alive and well for products like Just Bunches—or whole bags filled with only the marshmallows that populate Lucky Charms—I know you do too. 

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We're all a little hard-wired to eat like slightly deranged miners, pioneers panning for gold and the lone, lingering pine nut. We’re selfish, eyes-on-the-prize creatures—especially when we eat, when we are at our most creature-like. We don’t really save the best for last, because that is masochistic and masochism isn’t as pleasant as spearing all of the meaty, cheese-coated broccoli from your heap of rotini. We want the parts we want. We don’t want the parts we don’t want standing in our way.

Eli and Max Sussman get this. In their latest book, Classic Recipes for Modern People, they’ve created a masterpiece wherein the entire salad is the bottom of the bowl: It’s made of sweet, roasted carrots and pleasantly bitter dreads of radicchio to whip that sweetness into shape. It’s got a large fistful of pistachios. And when you eat it, there is no pushing aside of filler ingredients to get to more consequential ones; you could stab recklessly into this thing, blindfolded, and still get a perfect bite. How many other salads would you want to eat with your eyes closed? 

Keep your eyes open when you make it, though, because the Sussmans are about to teach you a bunch of tricks that you’ll use in every salad you make from here on out. First: Wilt half of your greens. In this recipe, half of your head of radicchio gets thrown in a hot pan to sizzle slouch before getting reunited with its crunchy, raw twin. Second, add a bit of water to your baking sheet in order to steam-roast your root vegetables. Because they will turn as tender as a ripe avocado, and you will feel smart, resourceful, a little ahead of the curve. 

Third: Come around to the fact that fruit in vinaigrettes isn’t uncool unless we let it be. The Sussmans force its hand, tempt us to call what we thought was passé—and what drenched our aunt’s spinach salads in 1996—kind of brilliant. They dice figs and let them leech their earthy sweetness into a balsamic vinaigrette, and it is very, very good. I couldn’t find fresh figs when I made this, so I blended a few dried figs right into the dressing. It is also very good. 

You’ll end up with much more dressing than you’ll need for one batch, which is really just more of their prudence in disguise: This way, you can make it again the next night. You’ll want to play this thing out like the latest hot single until the last drop has been mopped up by a steam-roasted carrot or unwieldy leaf or finger. And you should. 

Carrot and Radicchio Salad with Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup pistachios, toasted, roughly chopped
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 small shallot, minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup diced fresh figs, or 2 large dried figs (see note in recipe)
Kosher salt
2 pounds multi-colored carrots, halved lengthwise
1 medium to large head radicchio

See full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: carrots, radicchio, salad, easy, salads