Growing up, I spent a lot of time foraging in the woods. When the neighborhood girls and I weren’t in the midst of an epic hissy fit, or wreaking revenge on each other, we were building forts in the forest. These endeavors constitute some of my most vivid girlhood memories, especially the construction of the kitchen portion of the fort. I was forever concocting a “salad” of leaves, grasses and pine cone croutons. Whether this boded well or ill for the future of my cooking, I can’t say. I do know that it planted in me an abiding love for greenery, on my plate and around me. And all that scrounging around for ingredients was the beginning of a life of inventive salad-making, with or without lettuce.
It’s true: you don’t need lettuce to make a salad. If you are from the Midwest, you know this, my friend Jana informs me, because you have been making salads for generations with cool whip, Snickers bars and marshmallows. The thought of that concoction sends me running for pine cone croutons and cedar frond frisee. Recently, I have reunited with an old favorite staple of the lettuceless salad: celery. Ah, the discreet charms of this oft maligned plant!
When my girls were wee, they would watch Olivia, a whimsical children’s program based on the adorable Ian Falconer books. Olivia’s mom is one of my mothering role models (I get most of mine from children’s literature because the mothers who aren’t dead of a mysterious wasting disease are often pretty good). She has three children and runs an event planning/catering business. She stands in her kitchen, trotters jutting out beneath her sensible pencil skirt, reassuring a client that yes, there will be gluten free options at the bar mitzvah. Erstwhile her piglets run amok through the house, and she remains the picture of everlasting maternal calm.
What does this have to do with celery? Stay with me. Another character I enjoyed was Olivia’s monotone best friend, Julian with his ever present ipod. When Olivia asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Julian replies, “I’m just trying to get through the day.” I hear you. Julian was assigned to be celery in the school play and his song went, “Look at me, I’m Cel-er-y. I’m tall and green and crunchy.” Heck yes. Surely there is no need for a more ringing endorsement of a vegetable than that?
I love celery, and the stalks and leaves serve perfectly as the base for a crunchy (tall and green too) salad. My rendition of this dish was inspired by a salad recipe from Seattle blogger and restaurateur, Molly Wizenberg. You can add pasta to this and call it dinner. Feel free to call it dinner if it gets you full as is, but my cavernous stomach refuses to fill up without some pasta. It has to be whole wheat though; white flour is a younger woman’s game.
Everytime my youngest comes to me with pickings from the yard, nestled together in a bucket of dubious cleanliness and asks, “Are these all edible?” I see a future saladmistress in the making.
Easy Salad Even Piglets Might Like
One big head of celery, leaves included, sliced
One jar of artichoke hearts, cut in half (preferably grilled and marinated by Trader Joe’s, of course)
One can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
a lot of chopped parsley (add alternate or additional herbs if you prefer)
chopped chives (optional)
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice to taste
Combine it all and stir. Eat it in a tree.