Saturday, March 7, 2009

A locavore salad to kick out the midwinter jams

Call it “late winter” or “pre-spring,” these are difficult weeks with their apparently endlessly repeating pattern of snow, freeze, thaw, rain.

But the deeply cold nights bracketed by dark mornings and afternoons are already giving way to a softer light that lingers longer each day. The snowdrops have poked out of the brown oak leaves beneath the old lilac bush. No season lasts very long: our beautiful planet spins us relentlessly from one to the next, and around again.

While brooding on these verities, a person needs a salad. The soups, stews and other warming dishes of winter can cloy the body and mind, and a sharply sparkling crunchy bowl of fresh-tasting exclamation points helps us begin the climb up and out of midwinter torpor.

How to begin? After only a few months on a strongly-locavore diet, the pallid globes of plastic-wrapped iceberg lettuce trucked in from the distant California desert look a little comical; but their green freshness is a siren’s call.

Feigning deafness to that call (.ie., walking out of the hissing grocery store doors without the damn lettuce), I return home to do a fearless inventory of the refrigerator bins, heavy with locally organically grown root vegetables. With a little bit of work, a near-rainbow of sparkling crunchiness is quickly unleashed.

Cut off a big hunk of knobbly, root-encircled celeriac to release a whiff of fresh energy. Pare off its dull exterior, along with the grimy outer skin of two golden beets, and chop them into small chunks, either by hand or with a bit of mechanical help. Suddenly the kitchen is scented with bright outdoor memories, and the vivid gold of the beets tangle in a heap with the pale white morsels of celeriac.

Chop a chunk of green or red cabbage and a handful of carrots to a slaw texture, and pile them on. A turnip cut small adds bite, as does a white winter radish with its ruby core. Chop fine a garlic clove and chunk of ginger, and stir the whole thing up really well. You now have a wildly colorful, aromatic winter salad that will blast your brain free of its midwinter slump. I’d dress it with olive oil, a dab of sesame oil if you have it, a flavorful vinegar (not much), salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Serve the salad from a big bowl, and set out a few toppings for those who like to complicate matters: raisins or currants, sunflower seeds, walnut chunks, leftover peas or chickpeas, sprouts. My own favorite topping for this crunch-fest is almonds, roasted quickly in a pan and mashed into small chunks.

It’s time to wake up!

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