Crispy-Crunchy Shaved Salads for a Different Kind of Cold Snap

March 14, 2018

From June to September, salad is easy. Easy! Easy to make, easy to like, easy to eat at least once a day, and possibly for every single meal.

In February and in March, salad is hard.

Unless you live someplace that’s beautiful year-round, the farmers’ markets might depress you more than inspire you (sorry, farmers). A warm, cozy-mush meal you can burrow into probably sounds a lot more appealing than a cool, crispity one. And it’s not as easy as just slicing an armful of still-sun-warm tomatoes, sprinkling them with salt, and calling it a day. You’ve got to get creative. You have to really want it.

But it’s arguably at this time of year that you’ll make some of your most interesting salads, ones that emerge from bouts of tinkering, creative genius, complete desperation, or any combination of the three. These shaved winter salads are crispity and cool, yes; they’re electric with acid, cutting through those rich and cozy meals; they’re thoughtful and curious, with different shapes and textures and crunches; they’re frugal, thanks to inexpensive root vegetables. They’re the colorful, cheery dance break your late-winter menus are yearning for.

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These salads have three basic components: the shaved veg, the magic-making mix-ins, and a dressing to tie it all together. And they’ll all begin with either a sharp, sharp knife, or, ideally, a mandoline, which will get even the gnarliest of roots wafer-thin and ready for chomping through. Whichever one you use, use it carefully! Watch those fingers. If you feel more confident with a number, aim for millimeter-thick slices—stick with the natural shape of the vegetable or you can stack the rounds and slice them into matchsticks. Alternately, use a sharp vegetable peeler to turn your veg into a pile of twirlable ribbons. Or do some of all of the above.

The prettiest prep, no? Photo by James Ransom

The Shaved Veg

What to slice? Turn to your crisper drawer. I bet you’ve got a neglected root vegetable or two whiling away in there somewhere—most anything works: beets of all stripes (speaking of which, stripey Chioggia beets are especially pretty when shaved), kohlrabi, celery root, a rainbow of carrots, radishes, parsnips, jicama are all great. Beyond the roots, anything that’s crisp will work: cucumbers, celery, cabbage, broccoli stalks and/or florets, fennel, even sweet potatoes. And don’t forget crunchy fruits, too; apples and pears (either the Asian variety or slightly under-ripe) bring lots of welcome sweet-tartness to this party.

When I’m not sure where to begin, either overwhelmed by possibility or underwhelmed by what my fridge reveals to me, I look to color. Can I make a sunset-colored salad, all oranges and golds and pinky-purples? Or a green one with no tender greens?

Assemble a pile of vegetables, peel what you think needs to be peeled, and cut to size anything big you want to be more bite-sized (like kohlrabi). Use your common sense here—anything that’s tough or fibrous should get the boot. Then shave away! About four heaping cups of shaved vegetables will give four to six people a good pile of salad.

The Magic-Making Mix-Ins

Maybe you’re already smitten with your bowl of veg—all those colors and shapes! But maybe you’re looking at it and thinking that it looks kind of… sad… I’d like to direct you to the MIX-IN section, which is basically where we turn a bowl full of raw vegetables into a marching band on game day: low notes! high notes! fireworks! sharp looks!

All right, now you're just showing off. Photo by James Ransom

With the mix-ins, we’re looking for saltiness, brightness, richness, heartiness, funk, pop. Your pantry, fruit bowl, and cheese drawer are good places to start. You can add as many or as few of these as you like. Taste as you go.

  • Cooked French lentils (which will hold their shape)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Cooked grains
  • Grated, shaved, crumbled, or tiny-cubed firm or firmish cheeses (Cheddar, pecorino, and blue cheese are all good options)
  • Capers
  • Fresh or dried fruit (sections of grapefruit or blood orange or tangerine; avocado; chopped apricots or dates or raisins either as-is or plumped in a little vinegar)
  • Garlicky, toasted breadcrumbs
  • Fresh herbs and thinly sliced scallions
  • A handful of tender greens that can hold their own, like arugula, baby kale, thinly shaved kale or mustard greens, watercress...

The Dressing

Now it’s time to tie the whole operation into a tidyish package. It can be creamy—with a base made of yogurt, mayonnaise, sour cream, miso, mustard—or more vinaigrette-like, a balance of oil and acid. Whatever it is, make it pretty aggressive: It’s going to need to penetrate and/or coat the raw vegetables. Season it well, and err on the side of the acidic—you may need only a drizzle of oil.

Not sure where to begin? Pick an acid—the nearest bottle of vinegar, a piece of citrus, the pickle jar—and douse the salad liberally. Drizzle with an oil you think will complement it (like toasted sesame oil with rice vinegar, or olive oil with red wine vinegar). Season well with salt, and pepper if you’d like. Taste. Adjust. Not bad for a winter salad, hm?

A Little Inspiration

  • Carrot + cucumber + celery + Chioggia beet + a handful arugula + parsley + dill + grapefruit + blood orange + pickled shallots + tarragon, shallot, and grapefruit juice vinaigrette

  • Kohlrabi + Asian pear + carrot + black radish + scallions + cilantro + sesame seeds + kimchi brine, sesame oil, minced ginger, and rice wine vinaigrette

  • Cucumber + broccoli stem + celery + feta + avocado + scallions + mint + dill + lime zest and juice + drizzle olive oil

What are your favorite late winter salads? Tell us below!

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Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.