Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
A lovely seasonal dish to make at home!
I started making this salad at home about 10 years ago. We served it as part of Anese Cavanaugh’s inspiring book talk about energy management at the Roadhouse earlier this week, which reminded me that I ought to share the “secret.” It’s a really great and wonderfully refreshing spring salad that I’ve been enjoying regularly in recent weeks.
I tasted the basis of Anese’s salad for the first time out in Portland while I was there (doing ZingTrain work) many years ago when dining at the wonderful Greek restaurant, Eleni’s. The salad is still on the menu and if you’re out that way, stop by and order some. Since I live a long way from the “Rose City,” I’ve started making it at home, trying slightly different versions each time. At Eleni’s, they call this Lahanó Salata, but since I’ve revised it I’ve named it for Anese because I prefer a preponderance of fennel, similar to the flavor of anise—which is linguistically related to her name.
Having made it many times over the years, I’ll testify that this is a very easy salad to make on short notice. Because it holds up well for hours (or probably even days), it’s great to keep in mind when warmer weather arrives and picnics and barbecues start up for the season. The base of the salad is fresh fennel, celery, and cabbage. Shave a good bit of each into very thin slices. I’ve been going about 4:2:1 fennel to celery to cabbage because I like the former best, but you can alter that ratio to your preference any way you like. The key is to slice pretty thinly, say the thickness of what you’d put into coleslaw.
Sprinkle on a bit of coarse sea salt and grind on a lot of black pepper. The Elephant Pepper would be pretty marvelous. Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice and toss the salad. Then dress it with good vinegar and olive oil. The Pofi vinegar we have at the Deli is terrific for this! The vinegar’s lively, very light, oaky-fruit flavor is a great underpinning for the salad—it adds a nice vitality without taking over. Then pour on a good bit of extra virgin olive oil. The very excellent Mahjoub oil from Tunisia would be great. While you’re doing all that, toast up some nuts—almonds work well, as do walnuts. I’ve tried each and also a blend of the two. All were good, but I think I’m slightly partial to the walnuts. Chop the nuts coarsely, toss them onto the salad, and mix the whole thing again. Taste for salt, pepper, and lemon and adjust as you like.
Anese’s salad to this point can be prepped a bit ahead because it holds up so well. When you’re ready to serve, put it into individual bowls. On the side of each bowl put a nice slice of feta. The last thing before you eat is to sprinkle on some good paprika. When I saw that listed on the menu at Eleni’s my first thought was that it would be extraneous—I was concerned that it would clash with the other ingredients—but in fact it’s a surprisingly harmonious addition. It brings the salad to a whole other level! I use the really delicious non-smoked paprika from Murcia on Spain’s east coast, as well as the smoked ones (both hot and mild) from La Vera in western Spain. All worked well, so you can use whichever you like best and/or whichever you have on hand.
Serve a nice slice of Paesano bread alongside to soak up any extra oil and vinegar, and help guide the less-well-behaved slices of celery and fennel onto your fork, and you’re ready to go. The nice crisp texture of the vegetables contrast nicely with the crunch of the nuts. Spice from the pepper and the paprika contrast with the liveliness of the lemon and the vinegar. And the creamy richness of the feta eaten on the side seals the deal! If you want something to read while you eat, check out Anese’s latest book, Contagious You! Making the salad is a way to practice the Living Arts in a wonderful, energy-building way!