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These Salads Dress Themselves (Just Like You!)

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What if I told you that with a thin coat of salt and some respectful fondling, stiff raw vegetables (including those that are a strain to chew and then digest) will snap and relax like glow sticks?

Their turgidity will release; they’ll loosen up. They’ll settle into a salad that’s appealingly crunchy, with the perfect dressing—except that you'll have only added one thing.

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Sorry, what?

Party time!
Party time! Photo by James Ransom

That's how I reacted when Sarah Britton—the guiding light of My New Roots—mentioned the macrobiotic tradition of pressed salad, made of just vegetables and an elemental seasoning, on a recent Facebook Live segment.

Then again, why was I surprised? Sarah's the queen of extracting wild results from humble—some may say homely—ingredients. She made a comforting risotto out of sunflower seeds and an irresistible whole grain bread without flour.

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My New Roots' Life-Changing Loaf of Bread

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Macrobiotic pressed salads, the next in Sarah's oeuvre of vegetable transformations, lie somewhere between bouncy slaws and a slumped sauerkrauts, and offer the deliciousness and freedom that their name might not immediately suggest.

In her new book, Naturally Nourished, Sarah explains that lightly salting vegetables makes them easier to digest and eat, while still maintaining their inherent good-for-you qualities, and shares a recipe for a confetti of a salad made from kale, red cabbage, carrot, sweet potato, fennel, red onion, apple, and ginger, topped with herbs, sesame, salt, and lemon.

To make a pressed salad, follow these 5 simple steps:

  1. Shave, slice, or grate a collection of crisp vegetables and put them in a big bowl. In addition to those already mentioned, you can use turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, asparagus, scallions, or even beet or radish greens. How you choose to cut your vegetables is really up to you; the salad will end up pretty any way you slice it (!), but seek out thin, small pieces—they'll break down easier. Consider adding grated turmeric or ginger for an extra oomph of flavor.
  2. Barely coat the vegetables in salt (use about 1 teaspoon of sea salt for up to 8 cups of vegetables). Some who follow a macrobiotic diet also use umeboshi vinegar instead of salt.
  3. Give it all some like-you-mean-it squeezes until the vegetables start being more bendy.
  4. Let sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Traditionally, you'd press down the salad with a plate or other heavy object (hence the name "pressed salad"), but if you're willing to be patient with your salad, it'll cure without it.
  5. Drain the vegetables of their excess salty liquid, and eat!
Photo by James Ransom

I used this model and went forth with three different pressed salads (the freedom!):

  1. Radish rounds + shredded radicchio + thinly sliced red onion + apple slivers + grated ginger + black sesame seeds

  2. Yellow beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes cut into matchsticks + squeeze of lemon

  3. Cucumber in half-moons + grated green cabbage + thinly sliced fennel + thinly sliced celery + grated ginger + cilantro

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The dressing is inessential (the vegetables flavor themselves!), but you could serve it with one or many embellishments, including:

  • Yogurt dollop
  • Edamame or garbanzo beans
  • Salmon or another piece of fish
  • Squeeze of citrus
  • Shower of herbs
  • Sesame, nigella, or poppy seeds
  • A drip of sesame oil
  • Spices like cumin and mustard seeds or curry leaves tempered in oil
  • Nori
  • Avocado
  • Sprouts

So the next time you meet a stiff salad with unfriendly vegetables, smack 'em with saltiness. They'll loosen up.

Tell us: What are you turning into a pressed salad first?