One chance, I thought. I only get one chance to call something a “Crack Fill-In-the-Blank,” so don’t waste the opportunity. The fact is, I didn’t know what else to name this salad. It’s just a really good tumble of leftovers and odds-and-ends that I served to friends earlier this summer. “That Crack Salad” is what my friend Lesley called it when she emailed me about it a few days later about it.
But “Crack Salad” really isn’t my style. Would “Just Really Good Salad” work? Or “Delicious Chopped-ish Salad of Leftovers and Odds and Ends”? Neither of those seem to get at the scrumptious, addictive quality of this unassuming list of ingredients. Maybe I should just be very literal about it, with “Chopped Cabbage, Lentil, and Arugula Salad with Fried Shallots, Radishes, Almonds, Feta and Shallot-Oil–Dijon Vinaigrette?” No? Too long? A little unwieldy? Fine. Crack Salad it is.
I know that cabbage isn’t a sexy vegetable, but I love it—especially the small, firm, juicy heads at the farmer’s market. (Cabbage is one of those frost-resistant vegetables, like parsnips and many of the brassicas, that benefit from the crop freeze—the sugars crystallize, making them sweeter. It’s too early for a crop freeze in New York, but it gives us something to look forward to.) In this salad I cut it into small cubes, salt it, and let it rest. This seasons and softens the raw edge, transforming it into crunchy, juicy bites, and bulks up the salad as well.
And then there are the shallots. You don’t need me to tell you that fried, salty wisps of shallot are good. They add something special here, for sure. But the important thing is that you absolutely do not waste that fried shallot oil, because it’s the basis of this rich, mustardy dressing. Round out those items with several handfuls of bitter salad greens, some well cooked lentils, fragrant sliced almonds, and some creamy feta, and you’ve got a main dish salad that will threaten to turn you into an addict.
Crack Salad, with Cabbage, Lentils, Arugula, Almonds, Feta, & Frizzled Shallots
This is a component-heavy dish, and looking it over right now, it’s very obvious to me that it was born of leftovers. However, in testing it, I never found it to be as fussy and time-consuming as it looks on the page. Make extra lentils to repurpose later on in the week; save the other half of the cabbage for grilled cabbage; keep a big container of toasted almonds for other garnishing needs. You get the idea. Let this be a journey and a destination.
1/2 cup green, brown, dark green, or black lentils, rinsed and picked through
1/4 cup neutral-tasting oil (canola, ricebran, grapeseed, light olive oil, etc), plus 1-2 tablespoons more if necessary
2 small-medium shallots (about 2-1/2 to 3 ounces total), sliced into thinnest possible rings
1/2 small head crisp and sweet green or Savoy cabbage, cored and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (heaping 4 cups)
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 clove garlic
1-1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1-1/2 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
4 big handfuls arugula or other bitter salad green
1/4 cup crumbled feta
Freshly ground black pepper
Cook the lentils: Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with at least 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 12 minutes. Taste for doneness—they’ll probably need a few more minutes, but taste every minute, another 2 to 5 more, to prevent overcooking them. Drain out any excess cooking water and let cool.
Fry the shallots: Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Test its temperature by dipping part of a shallot ring into it—it should sizzle. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until reddish-brown all over, 7 to 15 minutes (cooking time depends on how thinly they’re sliced). Watch carefully, especially after they begin to color; they can burn quickly. Reserving the oil, use a slotted spoon to transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, where they’ll turn crisp. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Carefully pour the oil into a heat-safe measuring cup or bowl and let cool. Add additional oil, if necessary, to measure 3 tablespoons.
Salt the cabbage: Toss the cabbage with 3/4 teaspoon salt and the sugar and let stand in a bowl or colander for 20 minutes, until glistening and slightly softened. If any liquid has collected in the bottom of the bowl, discard it.
Roast the almonds: Preheat the oven or a toaster oven to 300 degrees. Spread the almonds in an even layer in a small baking pan or oven-safe skillet. Add to the oven and roast until golden brown and very fragrant, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir the pan every 5 minutes or so.
Prepare the dressing: Coarsely mince the garlic and sprinkle it with a big pinch of salt. Continue mincing and mashing it with the side of your knife until you have a paste. Combine with the mustard and vinegar in a jar or bowl. If using a jar, add the oil, seal jar tightly, and shake until emulsified; otherwise, whisk in the oil in a steady stream.
Assemble: Reserving a few almonds and shallots for garnish, combine the arugula, feta, lentils, cabbage, almonds, shallots, and several grinds of black pepper in a serving bowl. Toss with most of the dressing. Taste and add more if necessary. Garnish with the reserved frizzled shallots and almonds. Serve!