I was craving the coolness of some type of salad, now that it’s reached 68 degrees this early March in New York. Visions of cucumbers and fresh stone fruit danced in my head, but despite the warmth, it was still no time for such produce. Bah humbug, but here’s a tip for the midst of winter: fresh parsnip has a slightly tropical, fruity taste, especially when tossed with fresh lemon juice.
Although we can always rely on sliced apples for salads during the winter, you might swap them out for the crunchy strips of parsnips for a change. These dense, fibrous roots become appealingly crisp when sliced thinly and served raw, and have a mellow yet sweet, almost banana-like flavor that’s heightened with classic accoutrements of olive oil, sea salt and lemon in a salad. Combined with shredded red cabbage for more crispness and color, the pair made for an unexpectedly vibrant winter dish.
And boy, did I need something crisp and cooling today. I had managed to get myself a first-degree burn on my chest, of all places, while (clumsily) stirring in mash for a beer, of all things. Clutching an ice pack to my bosom all day, and feeling sweaty from the full sun and being overdressed, I wanted to jump into an aloe bath. But instead, I reached for less-exotic treasures: a thick root of parsnip, head of red cabbage and some fresh mint.
Can eating cure epidermal ailments? I can’t be sure, but once I polished off a plate of this salad, the burn’s pain had completely faded. I can be sure, however, that I would have enjoyed this salad a great deal were I perfectly fine, too. I’ve made a simple salad with fresh, shaved parsnip and carrot strands before, and enjoyed how their textures (and colors) contrasted with one another. This time around, instead of using a regular vegetable peeler to shuck off fine ribbons of parsnip, I found a device that can make long strands in my drawer.
I hereby reclaim some of the angst in my pre-Christmas post about not giving certain presents for cooks, but stand by one comment made in it: “I can’t say I haven’t been inspired to cook something with a tool that was given to me.” This shredder-peeler was a random kitchen gadget given to me, and it worked great for this dish. Thank you — Mom? — very much for the very thoughtful tool. It was so thoughtful I myself didn’t realize I’d need it — the very essence of good gift-giving, indeed.
Fresh Parsnip & Red Cabbage Salad with Mint
(makes about 4 servings)
1 medium parsnip, peeled and shredded into long strips
1/2 small head red cabbage, finely shredded
2 dozen small fresh mint leaves
juice of 1 lemon
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over the remaining ingredients, reserving some mint leaves for garnish. Sprinkle each plate with reserved mint leaves.
(for 4 large servings)
1 parsnip (at $1/lb): $0.40
1/2 small head red cabbage (at $1/lb): $1.00
1 lemon: $0.50
2 dozen leaves mint (at $2/bunch): $0.50
3-4 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper: $0.50
Three brownie points: An exceptionally light side dish or starter, this salad has no fattening additions like nuts or cheese, and a lot of nutrients from the vegetables used. It’s as simple as it gets in terms of dressings — some heart-healthy olive oil and Vitamin C-rich fresh lemon, too. The parsnips will offer some fiber and potassium, while the red cabbage has tons more Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Vitamin A. Both vegetables have natural sugars, however.
Eight maple leaves: A great way to make wintery foods taste more summery is to serve them raw. This will serve you well in nutrition as well as satisfy the tastebud for out-of-season (and non-local) produce. You might be surprised how far the simple (yet non-local) ingredients of lemon juice, olive oil and salt go to transform such tough, leathery vegetables.