Editors' Picks

Fergus Henderson's Red Salad

March 13, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A salad with more color than you've seen all winter.

Finished salad

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All winter long, we've been so good, eating our cabbage and kale

More colorful fruits and vegetables are on the way -- the glowing baby greens of spring will quickly be followed by a red hot riot of tomatoes and berries come summer. We know that. We can be patient. 

I don't mean to take away from those very special times we're about to have with sunnier ingredients. But I've got a salad for you -- a Red Salad -- that will upstage July.


It comes from chef and raconteur Fergus Henderson and was recommended to me by Food52er J David B, who lives in Greece and in winter will often make this salad twice a week.


It gets most of its color from beets, the drunken mess of the vegetable world. (You could argue that any salad with beets becomes a red salad, but this one is deliberate and quite clever.)

You'll stir together snippets of raw beet, purple cabbage, and red onion with balsamic, olive oil, and salty capers. What wasn't already red is instantly stained.


Then you plate a heap of it next to some creme fraiche (or strained yogurt if you're J David B) and chervil (or curly parsley if you -- like me -- don't know where the hell to find chervil).

It's earthy, tangy and sweet, like a livelier borscht -- one that makes you want to tear into your next course, rather than go curl up in a warm place.

Finished salad

The genius of this recipe is only enhanced by Henderson's fanciful writing style -- it's inexact, but a salad doesn't really need rigor. You're better served with Lewis Carroll-like imaginary descriptives. That blob looks nustled like a good friend, right? I bet it wouldn't, had I been told to "garnish".

Here's the best part: you've presented your diners with the tools to make fireworks on the plate. As Henderson's last line explains, "A very striking salad ready for the eater to mess up."

salad mess

Fergus Henderson's Red Salad

Adapted from Beyond Nose to Tail (Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2007)

Serves 6

For the salad:

2 raw beets, peeled and grated
1/4 raw red cabbage with its core cut out, very finely sliced
1 small red onion, peeled, cut in half from top to bottom and finely sliced
6 healthy dollops of crème fraîche
2 healthy bunches of chervil or 1 bunch of curly parsley, picked

For the dressing:

Healthy splashes of extra virgin olive oil
A little gesture of balsamic vinegar
A small handful of extra-fine capers
Sea salt and black pepper

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

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • liz schneider
    liz schneider
  • gingerroot
  • J David B
    J David B
  • Vstarr71
  • fiveandspice
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


liz S. April 20, 2017
If you garden, chervil is a cool weather crop, easy to grow, will self-sow to produce a 2nd crop in fall. I have raised it just to use in beet recipes, and, when abundant, I puree it with olive oil and keep in the fridge for times like this. I think it has a softer taste than tarragon, so don't use as much.
gingerroot April 25, 2013
This is such a great recipe! I've made this a number of times since you posted it. It is so easy for what you get out of it in terms of flavor. And, happily, although you get a little beet stained when making it, I've managed to stay beet juice free when eating it!
J D. March 18, 2013
Bravo, Kristen! More often than not, I just leave out the chopped flat leaf parsley that I use as a substitute for chervil...and it doesn't seem to be missing anything. I also use red wine vinegar for the acid. Either way, a super lovely red mess of a salad. So simple and so good. These are the kind of veg recipes that are so brilliant from Mr. Henderson that I wish we would see much more of in print.
Vstarr71 March 17, 2013
Fantastic, messy and yummy! Thank you!
fiveandspice March 13, 2013
Chervil was supposed to be the next big thing in herbs, and yet it's never there when you need it! I know I'm going to try growing some of my own this year.
AntoniaJames March 13, 2013
Good luck. That's one that eludes me. So darn persnickety! I'm going to try again this year, however, because it's so hard to find in even the best shops (perhaps because it's so darn persnickety and has a shelf life of about five minutes . . . .) ;o)
gingerroot April 25, 2013
We've tried growing it here in Hawaii in a number of client yards...it tends to do best in a cooler (but Hawaii cool) environment that gets a good amount of rain. At least that is what I've experienced...
hardlikearmour March 13, 2013
Chervil is almost impossible for me to find. Best to grow it! It's got a mild somewhat tarragon-like flavor so I'd consider tossing in some tarragon with parsley or celery leaves in its stead.
Kitchen B. March 13, 2013
Love the beet-stained hands. Stating the obvious too can be genius.....I like this recipe!
lastnightsdinner March 13, 2013
Ruth Reichl wrote this up a couple of years back, and we've loved it since then - great salad, and if you can get the chervil, do try it. I know some of the greenmarket stands at Union Square used to have it from time to time :)
Panfusine March 13, 2013
This salad is making me giggle, sounds as much fun to make as to eat it! just realized that there is something beyond just the taste in these genius recipes, its the joyful prospect of trying these out.
Brette W. March 13, 2013
If beets are the drunken mess of the vegetable world, I definitely want to party with them. Making this tonight!