January 18, 2013

Winter Salad: Fennel & Radish Salad

Sometimes, I feel an urge to add more vegetables to my dinner. This happens most frequently in the winter, when I'm not gobbling down fruit by the handful, and when summer salad vegetables are both more expensive and no longer at their peak. By late December, I've given up hope on fresh tomatoes until next year.

Salads can feel a little boring, in the winter. The summer vegetables are just too tired to make it through the winter (even if they're available, they have only a fraction of the flavour), and sometimes I forget that there are other kinds of "pure" vegetable salads - that is, without added pasta or grains - than garden, Greek, and chopped.

There are others, sure: there's roasted beet salad (delicious, but which takes quite a bit of time, plus use of the oven), and pear-walnut-blue cheese (costly ingredients, none of which I am likely to have just lying about on any given day), and cabbage slaws (arguably more of a summer salad), and these are all delicious. But this little number here, hand shaved fennel and thinly sliced radishes with an utterly basic vinaigrette - this becomes a winter salad that is fresh, crisp, simple, and something very much to look forward to, during the winter months when fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is at its peak. Quick and easy to make, this plays nicely as a side dish for those winter dinner blues. Since it's January right now, I might as well also note that this is a nifty little number to help bulwark any resolutions about healthy eating that we may be tempted to let slide right about now...

Fennel & Radish Salad

Serves 4

1 fennel bulb, trimmed of stalks and fronds
8 radishes, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

If you have a mandoline or v-slicer, you can make very quick work of slicing the fennel bulb. Otherwise, I recommend trimming and quartering the bulb, removing the v-shaped core, and then slicing very thinly on the diagonal. For the radishes, slice them in half pole-to-pole, then slice them into very thin half-moons.

Toss the vegetables in a salad bowl (or layer them, which is pretty in a glass bowl). In a small bowl, combine the oil, vinegar and salt, and blend thoroughly. Pour over the fennel and radishes, and refrigerate for 15 minutes (or up to an hour). Decorate sparingly with fennel fronds, if you like. You can eat it right away, of course, but it seems to benefit from a quick chill.

I think making it with sherry vinegar has the best flavour (white wine vinegar was not quite as perky), but it will discolour the crisp whiteness of the fennel, ever so slightly. White balsamic, or champagne vinegars would be good substitutes, if you want to keep the fennel from taking on a beige tinge.

Another addition that would be quite lovely is thinly sliced green apple - added just before serving to prevent discolouration. I think the sweet-tart of the apple would offset the fennel and radish beautifully, and that's how I intend to serve this, next time around.

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