Making a hearty salad is like recruiting the A-Team: You want to assemble a diverse collection of ingredients, each bringing its own special qualities to the mix. Just as Face was the suave manipulator, Murdock the crazy pilot, B. A. the muscle, and Hannibal the master of disguises, so nuts add crunch, greens crisp-tenderness, cheese a creamy richness, and the vinaigrette moisture and flavor. But this approach overlooks another technique: manipulating a single ingredient in different ways to get more than one quality out of it.
This Brussels sprout salad does all of the above. There are the nuts—here, they’re toasted skin-on hazelnuts, the skins taking on a light campfire aroma as they blister in a dry skillet. Then there’s the cheese, in this case tangy, creamy fresh goat cheese that’s crumbled in at the end. And, of course, there’s the vinaigrette, which I spike with tangerine zest to give it some personality. What I think is most interesting about this salad, though, is how the Brussels sprouts themselves are handled.
Shaving Brussels sprouts is a common technique for salads, the sturdy little brassicas forming a dense pile once shredded. Sometimes, though, that leads to a salad with a bit too much crunch—raw Brussels sprouts aren’t exactly the tenderest of greens.
This got me thinking about creative ways to deal with that issue. Roasting is one option, but that can take the dish a little too far out of salad territory. Plus, it’s something we’ve all seen before.
As it happened, though, I’d just been working on a sauerkraut how-to. The method starts by tossing and kneading shredded cabbage with salt, which wilts it through the powers of osmosis (the salt draws out moisture from the cabbage’s cells, collapsing them) and the mechanical crushing of the cells through the kneading itself.
When you’re making kraut, the next step is to let it ferment for several weeks, but that salted, wilted cabbage is actually delicious all on its own. So I started thinking about the sprouts: Why not salt and knead them, reenacting that first phase of kraut-making, but then toss the wilted sprouts directly into a fresh salad, no fermentation required?
I liked the idea, but I also knew that if I used them alone as the base, especially once they were mixed with a vinaigrette and creamy fresh goat cheese, the salt-wilted sprouts would come across as too soft and damp. My solution was simple: I’d salt-wilt only half the shredded sprouts, leaving the other half pristine and raw, then toss them back together right before serving. It’d be the perfect mix of two incarnations of a single ingredient: one soft and tender, the other stout and crisp. Combined, they are definitely greater than the sum of their parts.
The salt-wilting itself is easy. Sprinkle salt on the shredded sprouts, toss well, then knead and squeeze for a few minutes until you can feel them begin to yield and grow wet as their juices are drawn out. I decided to also squeeze onto them the juice from the tangerine I was zesting for the vinaigrette, to infuse them with a little more flavor. After they’ve rested in the fridge for around 15 minutes or so, they’re ready to go, though you can hold them for several hours at this point. When you’re ready to finish the salad, just squeeze the sprouts dry of all the liquid that has accumulated in the bowl, combine them with everything else, add the vinaigrette, and toss to coat.
After the first bite, there’s only one thing a person can say: I love it when a plan comes together.