Recipe: December Salad
Twice a month, Berkshire County native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, titled “The Homemade Kitchen,” due out in 2015.
This past weekend, at The Berkshire Grown Holiday market, I got to spend the morning with all the winter vegetables at the Indian Line Farm table. There were bags of greens that disappeared so fast even the mid-morning shoppers missed them, and bunches of kale so tender and sweet, it would be a shame to do anything other than eat them raw. But the basket of watermelon radishes was the star of the table, each radish smooth-skinned and round, with a faint green tinge to hide the secret inside.
“Radishes?” someone would ask. “What kind of radish is this?”
We’d pick up the little knife brought just for this purpose, whittle off a tiny wedge, and reveal the brilliant fuchsia innards.
If they’d never seen a watermelon radish before, there was always a gasp. (We do, after all, get used to the predictable colors of food, and the sunset burst within a simple radish can be nothing short of shocking.) But then, the taste! Crisp and mellow, with a hint of what I can only describe as “earth.” The watermelon radish is my favorite of all the radishes, and December is the month I like them best.
And how do I eat them? (This is, of course, the next question after the gasp and the taste.) If I’m so fortunate as to be throwing a party, I slice them thin into large moons, lay them on a plate, and sprinkle them with crunchy salt. It is the easiest and most beautiful starter there is. But if it’s just a regular old night in December (not that there are many of those), those radishes are the diva of my salad bowl. All the other winter salad greens sing backup, and then it’s all crisp bitter and sweetness, deep purple and pale green. This salad requires a few different bowls, but it’s worth the extra dishwashing, if only to get everything dressed just right.
Serves 4 to 6
1 small celery root (5 to 6 ounces), cut of its outer skin and into ½-inch cubes
1 watermelon radish (5 to 6 ounces), halved and sliced thinly
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 cups loosely packed greens (any combination of butter lettuce, radicchio, arugula, or tender kale), torn into large bites
1 head endive, leaves separated and torn
Freshly ground pepper
1. Put the celery root in one small bowl, and the watermelon radish in another. Sprinkle each with ¼ teaspoon salt, toss to combine and set aside.
2. Combine the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt with the vinegar, shallot and mustard in a 1-cup jar. Let it sit for a few minutes to let the shallot pickle in the vinegar. Then add the olive oil, screw the lid on the jar, and give it a good shake to emulsify the dressing.
3. Toss the greens and endive with half the dressing in a large bowl, taking care to coat each leaf. Taste a leaf, and add more dressing if necessary. Then add a drizzle of dressing to the celery root and radish bowls, tossing to lightly coat. (Any leftover dressing can be saved in the fridge for your next salad.) Pile the dressed greens on a large platter or wide bowl. Add the celery root and radish. Top with lots of freshly ground pepper.