You Say You Want a Quick, Satisfying Salad?
Think like a French person. Also: get out your grater.
I’M STILL HALF-UNPACKED HERE—so many cardboard boxes. I’ll be dead before their contents get proper ministrations. Plus, my new place has had some, um, unpleasant surprises that make it hard for me to think/work. And which have made the unmoored feeling you get from a move even worse. I am not comfortable in my own home!
I’m discombobulated. Boo-hoo.
There’s rarely a time when I’m not in the mood for salad, but when things are chaotic I’ll admit that occasionally it can feel like a chore to make an acceptable one, much less a truly delicious one. (Yes, a chore. It shocks me, too.)
So what this means is that at the very moment a person might need the exquisite comfort of a salad most, they might instead end up accidentally eating something that makes them feel awful. Like no supper, a Red Bull, and a glazed donut. Oops. (As I’ve said before, though, this is not a diet site. And I’m also not anti-donut. They just always make me feel like going back to bed for the day, or the week.)
Anyway, this salad-bereft headspace I just described is exactly what makes paying attention to French salads important. It has paid off for me very recently. I’m not going to explicate the depths of their elegant ease and goodness just yet. I’m just getting into the topic, trying to pin down their secrets. But I had to share one of my recent favorites with you right away, because it is exactly what I needed at this uncomfortable moment.
It just hit the spot in exactly the right way: ka-pow!
It’s from a book by one of my idols, Patricia Wells, from her 1996 book, “Patricia Wells at Home in Provence.” As I was deeply immersed in some of my vintage cookbooks, the page fell open to this simple, highly satisfying grated salad, as if by magic.
It reminded me very much of something my friend Steve Sando said when he dropped by the lab last March:
One more thought about salads. I don’t know about you but sometimes I come home and I’m frustrated and it’s: Damn, I’m going to overeat. It might as well be grated, shredded vegetables and good dressing instead of chicken wings or tater tots. I get a huge mixing bowl and put my favorite ingredients in it and go to town.
And it also reminded me of Sando’s Lentil and Carrot Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette, which he shared in that issue, and which is the very picture of delicious simplicity. Nothing makes me happier than remembering I have leftovers of that salad in my fridge, plus, as some of you have requested, it’s great for taking to the office or on a trip or picnic.
Patricia Wells's Grated Beet Salad is, too. I first made it exactly as she directs. And then I made it again, adding a couple of delicious bells and whistles not because it needed it but because this is my newsletter and as much as I worship her, I’d like to see Ms. Wells just try to stop me.
I absolutely adore the murky earthy flavor of raw beet, a vegetable that is a relatively recent addition to my repertoire (and that appears to be, when sliced into thin circles’ mostly a decorative ingredient to a lot of flashier salad makers, like giant colorful earrings).
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Their crunch in this particular treatment qualifies as comforting—so gentle and welcoming. And at this uncomfortable juncture, I’m going to admit that one of the things I love best about this salad is the immediate gratification factor: you can have it on the table in just a few minutes.
Plus, it has TARRAGON, one of my favorite herbs, which was allegedly named for its notched leaves’ resemblance to what people from the 16th century believed a dragon tongue looked like. (Mid 16th century: representing medieval Latin tragonia and tarchon, perhaps from an Arabic alteration of Greek drakōn ‘dragon,’ by association with drakontion ‘dragon arum.’)
*RECIPE: Patricia Wells’s Grated Beet Salad
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon imported Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon best quality red wine vinegar
Fine sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound fresh raw baby beets (I used 4 medium beets because unlike Wells, I live in an apartment in Atlanta rather than in Provence in an 18th century farmhouse called Chanteduc, which means “song of the owl.” Did I mention that she and her husband grow olives?)
1 tablespoon mixed fresh herbs such as parsley, tarragon, chervil, and chives, snipped with scissors. (I had everything but the chervil—which, who does?)
In a large, shallow salad bowl, whisk together the garlic, mustard, vinegar, and salt. Whisk in the olive oil and pepper. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Peel the beets. Grate finely in a salad grater, food mill, or food processor. Transfer to a salad bowl. Toss with some of the dressing to coat the beets evenly. Add the herbs and toss again. Taste. Add more dressing if desired. Serve.
*RECIPE: Emily’s Wholly Unnecessary and Delicious Adaptation
Wells’s salad captures for me what I love about French salads: they are unafraid to be exhilaratingly simple. But I also get that raw beets alone (for the most part) are perhaps a little too much for some people. On the other hand, I’d like to put an end to the abuse beets get that they don’t deserve. So when I decided to take Wells’s version to a different place, I was reminded that there’s almost no time when the addition of a bit of toasted nuts and a few crumbles of cheese in a salad do not make one feel slightly more well fed.
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon imported Dijon mustard (I used my fig mustard)
1 tablespoon good sherry vinegar
Sea salt to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon nut oil (I used my hazelnut; you can also just use 3 tablespoons olive oil and leave out the nut oil)
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of cayenne
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 medium beets
1 big sweet, tart apple
1-2 squeezes fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (I used parsley, tarragon, and chives), snipped with scissors.
1/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (goat or feta would be great, too, of course)
In a large, shallow salad bowl, whisk together the garlic, mustard, vinegar, and salt. Whisk in the oil(s), honey, cayenne, black pepper. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Peel the beets. Grate finely (I started out with my box grater, but switched to the large-hole grater that came with my mandoline. It worked perfectly) Transfer to a salad bowl.
Peel and core the apple (actually, keep the peel if you’d like). Grate, place in a kitchen towel and squeeze out liquid, transfer to the salad bowl with the beets, and squeeze a little lemon all over.
Toss the beets and apple with some of the dressing to coat evenly. Add the herbs, nuts, cheese and toss again. Add more dressing if desired. Serve garnished with a few herb sprigs.
DEPARTMENT OF NOT SALAD
While I was strolling through the Patricia Wells book, I noticed she had a recipe for grilled artichokes, which I love, and I immediately began wishing 1) I had a grill. 2) I’d bought a small sack of the cute purple babies the last time I was at the market. But I noticed that after “4 artichokes or 8 baby artichokes” in the ingredients list she included FROZEN ARTICHOKES. Which I have in my freezer, leftover from that humdinger potato and artichoke salad we shared recently. So I did it, and they were not as gorgeous as Wells’s photo, but they sure were good. They’d be a nice appetizer with toothpicks if they weren’t so ugly. I added a drizzle of olive oil, some Parmesan shavings, and a squeeze of lemon at the end. They needed it.
*RECIPE: Patricia Wells’s Barcelona Grilled Artichokes
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for finishing
Sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 artichokes or 8 baby artichokes, trimmed and prepared, or two 9-ounce packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
a few parmesan shavings to finish
flaky sea salt to finish
In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and salt. Whisk in the oil and garlic. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Drain the artichokes. Toss them with the lemon-oil-garlic mixture. (This can be done up to 2 hours in advance.) Set aside, uncovered at room temperature.
Preheat the broiler. Transfer the artichokes in a single layer to a nonstick baking sheet. Place the baking sheet about 3 inches from the heat. Broil until the artichokes are golden and sizzling, 2-3 minutes. (I don’t know what kind of superhero, magical oven Wells has, but it took my oven about 10 minutes to get the artichokes crispy and quite dark in spots, the way I like them.) (Alternatively, grill over a gas, electric, or wood charcoal fire.) Transfer to a bowl and toss. Taste for seasoning. Serve.
Emily’s suggestion: shower the dish with a few parmesan shavings, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon,
JUST FYI: What’s new in the DOS laboratory larder!
🥑 Avocado Oil (I don’t know what I’m going to do with it)
Papaya shredder (I’m still working on a green papaya salad)
🍤 Thai shrimp paste (see above)
Fig mustard (because fig mustard!)
🌸 🍯 Ziegler’s wildflower honey (which is JUST AMAZING; like eating the scent of flowers)
First: I wanted to mention that the Department of Salad was featured in Fortune magazine last week, in a terrific piece written by Jen Doll; here’s the link, along with the photo they used of me (the boys were at the beach that day), by the Atlanta photographer Audra Melton.
Also: We haven’t done an updated recipe index since we relocated the labs to Atlanta, and I want you to know we’ll do that soon. In the meantime, if you go straight to the DOS home page, which, counterintuitively, is at eatsomesalad.substack.com but which you can also find just by Googling “The Department of Salad,” you will see a search button. Use that. And we’ll be back soon with an updated index.
THAT’S IT. WE’RE DONE HERE. Midweek, for paid subscribers, we’ll have a couple of my favorite French salads, plus dirty French salad jokes. (Not really.) Thanks for reading. If you feel like sharing the Department of Salad with friends or family who deserve it, you may do so with these buttons. See you soon.