Of cabbage (salads) + kings

I’ll be honest.  I was already pretty psyched to talk about this salad with you, but then I watched this, and now have enough whimsy and light to carry me through to about April.

I have forgotten how much I loved Alice in Wonderland.  The palette, the joyful absurdity in the language, bibbed and bonneted mother oysters and worlds within worlds.  This reframes the whole post.  I kind of don’t even know where to start.

Okay.  I’ll start with this:  about 2 weeks ago, I cut my thumb pretty badly in the kitchen.

What?  What a bummer!  I totally just turned this whole thing upside down.  What a jerk.

Just bear with me – it gets sunny again at the end.

I was chopping kale (what else?) for a salad I may talk about another day.  As you probably know, the act of chopping any sort of leafy green produces pretty notable expansion in the volume of leaf-itude on your cutting board.  You start with an already pretty hearty bunch of greens, and with each chop, the leaves become fluffier, some take flight across the counter (or kitchen), and as a result it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of where all your digits might be hiding.

This being roughly the 2759th bunch of kale I have processed in my thirty years, I was, admittedly, working probably a bit too fast.  It was actually a relatively small cut (I could have done much worse to myself), though it caused a pretty hellacious trip to Immediate Care for some silver nitrate, which you should AVOID AT ALL POSSIBLE COSTS BECAUSE THAT SHIT IS PAINFUL.

So that brings us to 1.5 weeks ago.  I’m in the kitchen with a bandaged left thumb and some pretty extreme skittishness around All The Knives.  I have Brussels sprouts in the fridge but no courage to even so much as halve them to roast with some bacon fat (a holiday favorite that this year, seems to have carried into January and beyond…).  I think fondly of a shaved raw Brussels sprout salad that Danny and I had at Nellcote back in December and sigh dejectedly:  even more knifework.

“But wait!” I thought.  “A mandoline!”
(“The time has come!” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things!”)

Kids, if you don’t have a mandoline at home (and I don’t mean a mandolin), leave your house immediately and get one.  GO NOW.

All that pretty, thin slicing you see on, say, a pear tart?  Mandoline.  Wafers of potato or celeriac or turnip or rutabaga in a gratin?  Mandoline.  Skinny, precise cross-sections of onions, shallots, celery, fennel, etc etc for salads or sautes or whatever forever?  Mandoline.

So now I’ve got a solution, sort of.  Or, at least I know what to do with the Brussels sprouts.

The thing is, though, they are still basically little baby cabbages.  Which means both their flavor and texture are… coarse.  Which means they need softening.  In the past I’ve achieved this by roasting in the oven (or sort of pan-roasting/sauteing/steaming with a lid on, on the stove), but in a raw state, there is kind of nowhere to hide.

My only option:  acid.
My acid of choice:  lemon juice.

It begins to take shape.  I’ll model this salad off of another favorite salad in which thick, coarse leaves submit to the power of citrus.  (And sheep cheese.)

That kale salad linked above is very rustic and assertive in its heat and garlic factors.  I know that Brussels sprouts, even shaved ones, pack some formidable heft of their own, but once I got them all through the mandoline, I decided the color was far too delicate and pretty to pair with red chili flakes and raw garlic.

I also wondered what else I could include in the salad that I could shave/cut/slice/process to an appropriate size while still avoiding knifework beyond slicing a lemon in half.  Still slightly terrified; that mandoline guard is my best friend.

I had a shallot.  And some cacio di Roma (where was this last week??).

BTW:  new favorite workhorse cheese for pretty much anything remotely Italian-inspired.
Cheaper than (though in some cases no substitute for) parmigiano, less offensively salty than pecorino romano.  Sheepy for sure, but delightfully so.  
So I run the shallot through the mandoline on one setting thinner than the sprouts.  I shred some of the cacio on a box grater.  I throw lemon juice and olive oil and salt and pepper on the whole thing, mix it, taste it, and then basically double the lemon juice.  Those sprouts are cabbagey and must be tamed.  I squeeze the other half of the lemon over it, mix it again, and ta-daaaa!  Really excellent, totally safe, pretty colors, keeps for several days in the fridge for all your lunch needs shaved Brussels sprout salad.

I mean, look at that.  It’s so light!  Pretty!  Definitely not the palette you think of when you think of February food.  The rest of my brain is running reels of pot roasts and roasted carrots and kale kale kale on loop.  But in some pocket of some cortex, down some rabbit hole, probably next to the nerves firing messages to each other about cut-resistant gloves and full hazard suits, the sun is shining and I am still all in one piece, sneaking forkfuls of this rather addictive little salad.

Safety Salad, aka Shaved Brussels sprout salad with cacio and shallots

Get this:

  • One of those small mesh bags/pouches/whatever of Brussels sprouts.  (Yes, that’s a standard unit of measure.  You know what I’m talking about.)
  • 1 large shallot
  • 1/2 cup of cacio di Roma, finely shredded (I’d avoid grating it for this salad – it may make it too clumpy)
  • 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
Oh and that mandoline you’ve just bought yourself for like very little money.  It should have come with a grippy guard thing, and you should pat it gratefully for what it’s about to save you from.
Do this:

Trim the stem ends off of the sprouts.  You can do this with a little paring knife if you are avoiding Big Boy Blades.  You’ll find that the larger outer leaves of the sprouts get separated during this step, so feel free to throw them right into the bowl.
Over the bowl, run the sprouts across the mandoline on a medium thickness.  (Mine is pretty basic and has 3 settings:  thin, very thin, and wafer.)  For the pretty cross-section effect, as well as consistent texture throughout, lay each sprout on its side and slice, instead of from the stem end up.  Be sure to use that guard!!  Mine is flat with a grip handle on top and little spikes on the bottom to grip whatever is getting sliced.  
You may find that you get about 3/4 through a sprout, then can’t slice it any thinner without putting yourself in grave danger.  Don’t fret!  This is sort of the fun part.  Take whatever is left of that sprout and just sort of turn it gently inside-out with your fingers, separating the rest of the leaves from each other and brushing them into the bowl.  
Once the sprouts are all sliced, shave the shallot over the bowl in much the same way.  Make sure to separate the individual rings from each other so no one gets a sneak attack mouthful of raw shallot.
Add the cheese and squeeze BOTH halves of the lemon over the mixture.  Then add about 1/8 cup of olive oil, and mix together.  Add salt & pepper to taste, as well as any more oil if you like.
As I said, this keeps in the fridge for several days and is a really great bring-along for work lunches.

Tell me what you think...

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