There are many types of lazy cooks. Some are can-opener lazy. Some are pass-me-the-takeout-menu lazy. A great many are Trader Joe's lazy (you know who you are). And some of us are makes-no-sense lazy — we're too lazy to buy bread, so we flail around for six hours and make some. Too lazy to hunt for blanched almonds, so at midnight we're boiling them ourselves and grumpily slipping the skins, or we're picking bugs off the tomatoes we grew because the farmers market was just too much of a schlep.
Summer inspires the lazy cook to dizzying new feats of laziness. Liquid lunches, random fruit meet-ups, meals consisting of things you can throw in a blender — anything to avoid summer's Public Enemy No. 1: the stove. I think it's fair to say that wherever you have the absence of a stove, you very soon have salads. Especially shredded salads, which is to say the type of salads that do not require a knife to eat. That's because if you're a lazy cook, you have no problem with a fork, but you have mixed feelings about a second piece of silverware. It might get in the way of the paperback novel you're trying to keep open on the table.
Shredded salads are, almost by definition, cold salads. Not only do you not have to turn on the stove, but there's also no hurry to get to the table, because they're good to go at any time during the four days they'll keep in the refrigerator. Most of them just sit there patiently, thinking chilly vegetable thoughts. And when you finally get 'round to them, they'll be fresh, fork-ready and tasting as good as or better than the day you made them.
Let's talk for a minute about what we mean by "shredded." The point of shredding is to reduce food to a bite-ready size. The original shredded salad is, probably, cole slaw. You may love it or hate it, but you never have to use more than one utensil to eat it. It's a straight shot from plate to mouth with a fork, which is a fine thing when you're too lazy to fiddle with a knife.
The same is true whether your salad has grated shreds, sliced shreds or finely chopped shreds. In the end, all roads lead to Rome.
Short of eating nothing but raw fruit for the entire summer, the shredded salad is probably the closest a lazy cook can come to not cooking at all. There are no greasy pots to scour, no extra silverware to set and, best of all, not a lick of flame. And consider this: Is it so much harder to slice two cabbages than one? Play your cards right, and you could end up with enough shredded salad not to cook for three days.
About The Author
T. Susan Chang is a New England-based freelance writer and a former Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow. She also is the regular cookbook reviewer for The Boston Globe, and her articles on cooking, gardening and nutrition appear in a variety of national and regional publications. You can find more information at her Web site, tsusanchang.com.
If you are a lazy cook who also works from home, I should warn you that you may soon find yourself floating some disturbing scenarios in lazy-upmanship, like drinking straight from the tap instead of pouring water into a glass, or eating your salad straight out of the prep bowl. Next thing you know, you'll be leaving the fork and the bowl out in the rain so Mother Nature can do the dishes. You might find yourself concluding that you might as well save a few steps by just eating over the sink.
Enjoy it while it lasts. Because soon enough, summer will be over, and you'll be pulling out those hard-to-scrub roasting pans once again and regarding the very same sink with loathing.
Shredded with your fingers: Ideal for irregular textures, such as cooked chicken breast or salmon and easily bruised herbs such as basil. If you want an absolutely no-prep-utensil salad, you could add friable cheeses such as goat cheese or feta and crumble them in. Walnuts or pecans are good for breaking up with your fingers, too. You could toast them first, but that would mean turning on the stove.
Shredded with a grater: The way to go if you're dealing with hard root vegetables — carrots or beets in particular. Fine, fresh shreds are great for texture, as long as you don't let them sit around and get soggy with dressing. The texture of coarse shreds holds up a bit longer in a marinade. For stability and speed, a box grater works best, but mind your knuckles.
Shredded with a knife: The minimalist approach. A good sharp knife is all you need for regular-shaped greens like cabbage. It's also just fine for thin-sliced cucumber salads, as long as you're patient and not easily bored. If you're the sort of person who's better at focusing in short, intense bursts, use a slicer.
Shredded with a slicer: Sometimes you want a real shredfest of a salad, with multiple vegetables. For sheer volume, there is nothing better than a mandoline slicer — either a traditional mandoline (the home version of a deli slicer — a fixed blade within a fixed frame), or an angled-blade Benriner slicer. Finger-oriented people have a special horror of these, so hide them when your musician friends come to visit. You can use the Cuisinart with the feeder tube and the shredder attachment and tell them you used the plastic pusher (even if you can't actually find it).
Classic Cole Slaw
Everyone has a favorite cole slaw recipe. I happen to like this one because it's not too mayonnaise-y. Instead, the mayonnaise is cut with nice tart buttermilk. Personally, I prefer all green cabbage rather than green and red, because I think red cabbage has a way of calling attention to itself. Cabbage is easy to slice with a knife, but slice it as fine as you can. This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit, Y'All by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press 2008).
1/4 small head green cabbage, cored and finely shredded (about 2 cups)
1/4 small head red cabbage, cored and finely shredded (about 2 cups)
1 carrot, finely shredded
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, mayonnaise, buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar, onion and mustard. Whisk until smooth. Add the cabbages and carrot and mix well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to marinate for at least 2 hours before serving. Adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper before serving.
Carrot Salad With Green Chili And Cilantro
This is the one shredded salad you want to make right before you serve it, because the carrots bleed once they're shredded and salted. It is adapted from The Vegetarian Option by Simon Hopkinson (Stewart Tabori & Chang 2010). Although Hopkinson recommends finely grated carrots, I use a mix of coarsely and finely grated carrots. I think the texture is more interesting that way (especially alongside the crunchy, toasted, crushed coriander seeds).
4 cups peeled and finely grated (or a mix of coarsely and finely grated) carrots
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
Juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
Cilantro leaves picked from 4 or 5 bushy sprigs
1 green Thai birds-eye chili, serrano or 1/2 jalapeno, seeded
In a large bowl, mix the grated carrot together with the salt, sugar and lime juice. Leave to macerate for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the coriander seeds in a small, dry skillet and gently toast them over low heat until they smell very good, but be careful not to burn them. Tip into a mortar and lightly crush with the pestle.
Now mince the cilantro and chili together (this makes for a more aromatic mix, in a similar way to persillade — garlic and parsley given the same treatment). Add to the carrots together with the coriander seeds and mix well. Turn into a serving dish.
Grated Raw Beet Salad With Fresh Dill And Mustard Vinaigrette
This is a very strong argument in favor of the raw beet, although confirmed beet-haters may refuse to go near it. Use a box grater, carefully, to grate the beets, and don't even think of wearing anything white. The recipe is adapted from Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by Farmer John Peterson (Gibbs Smith 2006).
4 medium beets, peeled, coarsely grated (3 to 4 cups)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed (1/2 teaspoon)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
Put the grated beets in a large salad bowl
Combine the olive oil, vinegar, shallot, mustard and garlic in a large jar. With the lid tightly screwed on, shake the jar vigorously until the oil and vinegar are thickened (an easy, surefire way to get a good thick vinaigrette.)
Pour the dressing over the beets and toss until well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Add the fresh dill, toss again and serve chilled.
Marinated Sliced Cucumber Salad
Yes, well, technically these are slices rather than shreds, but it's the same basic idea. When I was a teenager, my stepfamily regularly made a version of this salad in the summer. It's cool, refreshing and dead easy — but do be careful if you use a mandoline slicer. I vividly remember the mishap incurred by my stepsister Alysia on one cucumber salad occasion, not to mention the morbid finger humor that followed.
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt)
1/2 cup water
1 long or 2 short cucumbers (seedless if possible)
6 to 8 leafy dill sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the marinade, combine the vinegars, sugar, salt and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it's fully dissolved, simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until the mixture becomes somewhat syrupy. Let cool to room temperature.
While the marinade is cooling, finely slice the cucumbers into rounds about 1/16-inch thick. You can use a mandoline or V-slicer (an angled blade set in a plastic frame; one common one is sold by Benriner), or, if you're patient, you can just slice them with a knife. Pick the leaves from the dill sprigs, discarding the stems, and finely chop.
Place the cucumbers, dill and marinade in a heavy-duty re-sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably 4 or more. With a slotted spoon, lift the cucumbers into a serving bowl and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.