Wait!!! Before you cross your arms with a “harumph,” and turn away muttering, “Celery? Seriously? This is taking the whole healthy eating in the New Year thing too far. Celery is what you put in your rabbit’s hutch when it looks at you with big brown eyes that say ‘give me something crunchy but flavorless.’ It is not real human food…” Before you do that, first listen to me when I say, “I agree!” I really do. Unless it’s a vehicle for eating peanut butter and raisins, I rarely put celery into the category of food. Rarely. But, I do make occasional exceptions. After all, you do need celery to make a good mire poix for starting off many a soup or stew. And I wouldn’t have quite believed it, except that I tasted it myself (and by tasted, I mean devoured it), this salad gets a big old exemption as well.
The reason I made this salad it that I dreamed it. Literally. I woke up after having this salad in my dream, and I figured I really ought to give it a try in a waking state too. Not that being in one of my dreams necessarily makes something a good idea. Quite the opposite. I frequently dream about things like being in a train depot on the back of a giant turtle that is about to dive under the water, or climbing an endless staircase into an orange sky surrounded by people with balloon heads, or polar bears reenacting tragic love stories by Shakespeare (actually, that one might be a good idea. Venture capital investment opportunity anyone?). But, I had such a good feeling about this salad as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and the rest of the details of my dream slipped into the fog of lost memories, that I couldn’t resist digging up the ingredients and giving it a try.
And wow! I’m really hoping that I keep dreaming up things like this. If I do, I’ll soon be quitting my day job and barraging those people who make the show Top Chef with letters until they let me on the show. And then I will dream astounding recipes and vanquish the competition and be a superstar chef! And cook for kings! And there will be much rejoicing…Or, I won’t do any of that, and I’ll just keep cooking for my family and friends because that’s what I like to do. But, I will definitely be putting this salad into regular rotation. Joel, who can always be counted on to say something wonderfully adorable and/or amusing about the things I cook, started eating this salad and then exclaimed, “oh my gosh! This salad is changing my life one bite at a time!”
I don’t know if it’s quite life changing (but hey, there’s a chance), but it is a wonderful, vibrant combination of flavors and textures. There’s a point, counter-point melody of sweet and salty that weaves it’s way through the apples, capers, raisins, and cheese. It is zippy and crunchy in an extremely satisfying way. And the warm pungency of the mint pulls all of the other flavors together. The final result is crisp and refreshing enough for midsummer, but hearty and complex enough for midwinter. It makes a lovely light first course (especially if you’re doing courses of nibbles, hehe), or a great side dish for a light entree, like fish.
Zingy celery apple salad (with capers, raisins, and mint) (serves about 4)
- 2 cups celery, thinly sliced (on a bit of a diagonal)
- 1 sweet-tart apple, such as Braeburn or Pink Lady, cored and cut into smallish chunks
- 2 tablespoons (heaping) golden raisins (regular raisins also work, but I found I liked the flavor from the golden raisins better)
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon good olive oil
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
- 3 generous tablespoons crumbled ricotta salata (or other salty crumbly cheese, like feta for example)
- If the raisins are dry, soak them for 10 minutes in a bit of apple juice or water. Then drain them.
- Combine the celery, apple, raisins, and capers in a medium-large bowl. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and toss well to coat.
- Throw in the sliced mint and the crumbled ricotta salata and toss again until everything is a lovely jumble. Serve! This salad also just grows better as it sits a little while and the flavors hang out and get to know each other a bit better (within reason, I’m talking a couple hours to a day here, more than that and the celery does start to lose its crunch).