Forget Spinach, Keep Your Arugula — THIS Is the Salad Green Worth Obsessing Over
It has to be said: Celery does not get the affection that it deserves. I don't eat celery because it allegedly burns calories while you're chewing and digesting it, I eat it because it's crispy, refreshing, and delicious. The other day, I noticed my friend Cathryn making a celery salad in her Instagram stories, and it reminded me of this celery salad that I loved to make a few years ago. No leafy greens, just crunchy, vegetal slices of celery topped with all the fixings. Now, you're speaking my language.
Obviously, I then had a strong urge to make a celery salad of my own. So, I honored that craving and whipped one up — folks, it did not disappoint. In fact, upon my first bite of that salad, I decided that 2021 is the year of the Celery Salad Girl Summer. Join me, I insist.
Like any leafy green salad, there is an imprecise formula for the ideal celery salad. I should also clarify — I have nothing against leafy green salads, so if you feel compelled to toss in a handful of arugula, baby kale, or romaine to your celery salad, I have no plans of stopping you from doing that. For me, the beauty of a celery salad is showcasing such an underrated veggie as the backbone of a flavor-packed and texturally delightful dish, as well as using up whatever else you have kicking around in your fridge and pantry. Here's what every celery salad needs:
Grab your finest bunch of celery, give it a good rinse, and trim the ends of the stalks. Now is not the time to use those limp stalks that have been sitting in your fridge for weeks; save those guys for a homemade stock. For a celery salad, you want to use the Advanced Placement, top-of-their-class, varsity athlete-type celery, you know? It should be irresistibly crispy and ultra bright green. A whole bunch of celery is good for a salad to serve two to four people, depending on how hungry you all are. Another important thing to note with celery salad is that you should always toss in those crunchy celery leaves. Don't even think about tossing 'em, okay? I like to thinly (maybe ¼-inch slices) cut the stalks on a bias because I think it looks nice.
Now is a great time to use up any fresh herbs. Coarsely chop up some fresh basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, chives — whatever it is that you have, go ahead and tear it up and toss it on in. Celery salads are meant to be rustic, so don't get too hung up on mincing anything super delicately. Same idea goes for measurements — I'm not going to tell you how much of any component to add solely because that's up to you. If you want the salad extra herby, then add more herbs. You feel me?
I firmly believe that every salad can benefit from a sweet addition. Fresh fruit would be a lovely component in your celery salad, such as strawberry slices, stone fruit slices, fresh blueberries, or chopped apples. You could also go the dried fruit route and add chopped dates, golden raisins, or dried mango. If you don't want to add fruit, you could also impart a subtle sweet flavor with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar. I know it might seem strange, but trust me on this one.
Like any well-rounded savory dish, I personally think there needs to be cheese. You can go for a soft or hard cheese. Crumbled blue cheese, goat cheese, and feta are all just as valid as large hunks of Parm or your favorite aged Cheddar or torn bits of fresh mozzarella. There are no wrong answers when it comes to cheese.
Open up your pantry and pull out whatever nuts you have hanging back there. Toast them for added flavor, coarsely chop 'em, and throw 'em on in. Walnuts, sliced almonds, pecans, pine nuts, or pistachios would all be delicious. If you want to add some seeds, such as sunflower, hemp, or chia for a little added crunch, I definitely invite you to do so.
A Bright, Tangy Dressing
Let's not sleep on the dressing that will bring this whole dish together. You definitely want a bright, punchy dressing for such a refreshing salad. Whisk up a simple vinaigrette with minced shallots, Dijon or whole grain mustard, fresh lemon juice, your favorite vinegar, maybe a drizzle of something sweet, and olive oil for a simple yet highly acidic dressing. Make sure it's well seasoned with salt and pepper (if you want to add a kick of heat, throw in some chili flakes while you're at it).
As I mentioned, celery salad is a great opportunity to use up whatever it is that you've got hanging around. Any other veggies in your fridge are certainly a welcome component. Got a fresh avocado? Chop it up and throw it in. Want to add a protein? You certainly don't need to, but you could add in shredded chicken, drained and rinsed chickpeas, baked tofu cubes, or cold, leftover steak. You could even crisp up some bacon or pancetta for a salty, crunchy kick.
Once you have all your components, give the salad a good toss and enjoy it immediately, or let it sit for a little longer and enjoy a slightly softened bite. This salad can definitely last a day or two in the fridge, keeping in mind that it will be its most crisp when it is first made. As long as you're showing some love to this under-appreciated veggie, then you're definitely doing it right.