Now that we are getting spring vegetables, Carolyn and I decided to try some new salads. We are seeing beautiful radishes and fennel at the farmers market and decided to find a salad that used them. (It is a bonus that our kids actually like radishes, so if we can make a dish with them, we will).
Carolyn went immediately to Alice Waters’ cookbook “Chez Panisse Vegetables” for some ideas. This is quickly becoming a “go-to” cookbook for us when we are looking for seasonal vegetable dishes. The book has detailed, useful information on the vegetables themselves, different varieties, their seasons and suggested uses. The cookbook tends to lean towards European flavors, but Waters wisely admits this and sticks to her strengths. And so far, every recipe we try or adapt has worked very well. And if you’ve been to Chez Panisse, that’s not a surprise. The work they do with seasonal produce is still the gold standard. In our area only perhaps Manresa, a restaurant with its own farm, can compete.
This recipe combines spicy radishes with the anise flavor of fennel and the bitterness of dandelion greens. (If you do not have dandelion greens, a bitter green like arugula would be a good substitute.) A dressing of Meyer lemon, shallot and olive oil adds both acidity and some sweetness. The final salad is very refreshing with big, bright flavors, but is not overly bitter. While very good by itself, this salad perfect foil for heavier, richer dishes. We served the salad with chicken thighs in a coconut milk-based sauce and they complimented each other quite well. This salad would also work well with fish that has a butter or cream-based sauce or with pork roasts (fennel likes both fish and pork).
As for making the salad, it is easy, but you will benefit if you have a mandolin. A mandolin is simply a manual slicer that is used primarily for vegetables. There are big, expensive metal mandolins for big jobs like potatoes, but also inexpensive plastic mandolins for smaller vegetables. For this recipe, a small plastic mandolin worked well and produced very thin, uniform slices or radish and fennel. If you do not have a mandolin you can use a slicer attachment in a food processor, or use a knife to slice or quarter the radishes and fennel. Your slices will (probably) not be as precise, but the dish will taste just as good.
Assembly is pretty simple but has a key step worth noting, and it is the kind of detail that makes the Chez Panisse vegetable dishes so good. The recipe has you spend a few minutes to macerate shallots in lemon juice for the dressing. (You may note that we like macerating shallots for salads). This technique adds a lovely sweet and sour aspect to the dish, and along with using a good olive oil, balances the bitterness of the vegetables. This step takes a few extra minutes of inactive time, but is worth it.
Otherwise, you build this salad like most others. Wash / dry greens, slice the veggies, make dressing, assemble, toss, serve. But this is no average salad, the flavors really stand out and are a welcome change from heavier, winter flavors. We will be happily making this salad all spring.
Radish, Fennel and Dandelion Salad
(Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables)
Notes Before You Start:
– Mandolins are great tools that we highly recommend, but they are sharp and should be respected. Use the hand guards or risk slicing your fingers!
– The recipe requires “2 bunches” of dandelion greens. In our experience, the size of a “bunch” varies. Look for enough greens to feed 6 adults.
– As noted, you can substitute young arugula for the dandelion greens.
What You Get: A very bright, clean-flavored spring salad. This salad would be great for a light lunch but is best as a foil for richer dishes.
What You Need: A mandolin or food processor will be a nice help but are not required.
How Long? 30 minutes of total cooking time, with 15-20 minutes of largely inactive time while the shallots macerate. It is worth the wait.
- 2 bunches of young, tender dandelion greens
- 1 large lemon (Meyer lemon if available)
- 2 medium shallots
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- White wine vinegar (optional)
- 2 bulbs of fennel, tough outer layers removed
- 1 bunch (8-12) small red radishes, tops removed
- Wash and thoroughly dry the greens and keep chilled in fridge.
- Zest the lemon using a zester, microplane grater or knife. Reserve zest.
- Juice the lemon into a medium bowl and add lemon zest.
- Peel and finely chop the shallots. Add the shallots to the lemon juice and zest. Allow to macerate for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes whisk in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Add a dash of vinegar, to taste, if you like.
- Thinly slice radishes and fennel using a mandolin, food processor or knife.
- Combine dandelion greens, radishes and fennel in a salad bowl. Add just enough dressing to coat, toss thoroughly, season with salt and pepper. Serve.