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Think Thin: Shaved Vegetable Salads

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From Fine Cooking 121, pp. 72-75

by Tamar Adler

Last winter, I’d been contentedly eating the stews and braises that I typically make during the dark, cold months, when I felt an almost animalistic need for something raw. I wanted fresh. I craved crunch. So, reaching for the rutabagas that were nearly the only vegetable available at the farmers’ market, I decided not to cook them. I would shave them instead.

Shaving vegetables (slicing them as thin as possible) is something I often do in summer to make refreshing salads. Ribbons of cucumber or zucchini look jaunty on the plate, but more important, their wide surface area helps them absorb the flavors of a vinaigrette. Happily, shaving works well with tough winter vegetables like my rutabagas, plus parsnips, carrots, and fennel, too. But because they’re so fibrous, these vegetables need a little more help to make them enjoyable.

Two steps for great texture: a close shave and a short soak. While you can use a mandoline for shaving vegetables (and I recommend it for fennel), all you really need for most is a vegetable peeler. Just be sure to shave them as thin as you possibly can. Once shaved, they need to be marinated in some vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice; the acid softens them a little but not so much that they lose their crunch. That soak also subtly flavors the vegetable and is the starting point for the salad’s dressing.

Toss with olive oil, add some flavorings, and you’ve got a salad. I like to serve these piquant vegetables as a welcome change of pace from winter’s usual cooked side dishes. The shaved turnips and rutabagas tossed in a mustardy vinaigrette, for example, makes an excellent accompaniment to rich braised meats. These salads can also work as a refreshing first course, which is how I like to serve the shaved fennel salad featured here.

This winter, I plan to keep on shaving vegetables-the technique works just as well with beets, sweet potatoes, and celery root. At the end of another cold, dark day, it helps to know that a colorful and seasonal salad is only a vegetable peeler away.

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3 Tips for Getting a Close Shave
 

Slicing large, dense roots like rutabaga into slabs before peeling makes them easier to handle and produces ribbons of even widths.

 

Shaving parsnips and carrots is a lot like peeling them. Just exert a touch more pressure as you swipe the peeler down the entire length of the root.

  You can use a peeler for fennel, too, but because of its irregular shape, it’s easier to shave with a mandoline.

Photos by Scott Phillips

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