Perhaps it's because I've been more sedentary than usual or perhaps it's the brutal onslaught of ice and snow but I've had this craving for fresh winter salads. After a few days of fantasizing about light and healthy but seasonal dishes, I grabbed some fennel and a handful of persimmons and got to work.
The result is a salad plate that shines with bright flavors and vibrant colors. The gorgeous orange color of the persimmons is visually uplifting and eases the lack of sunlight, the vast expanse of gray skies, and the distinct sensation that everything has assumed a sort of lifeless quality. (I may be struggling with some seasonal blues). The walnut oil and toasted walnuts ground the salad -- it is winter, after all -- and tone down the strong anise flavor of the raw fennel. The arugula is probably an optional component. Leave it in, leave it out -- I think the salad also works pretty well without it.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I couldn't stand the taste of raw fennel. In fact, I thought fennel was inedible unless roasted or braised into oblivion. Totally misguided! Raw fennel, sliced thinly into delicate wisps and paired with a bright vinaigrette and contrasting ingredients such as sweet ripe fruit and toasted nuts, is amazing in a salad. As with all things, I'm late to the party. If you're really into raw fennel salads, check out these other interesting variations on the theme: Celery, Apple, and Fennel Slaw, Fennel and Blood Orange Salad, and Shaved Fennel Salad.
Persimmons are a recent obsession of mine. This pretty coral fruit has a sweet flavor that falls somewhere in between an apple and butternut squash and is amazingly healthy -- some label it a superfood but I'm not a fan of that word.
Because I'm still psychologically scarred from a singular experience with an underripe Hachiya persimmon, I would recommend that you choose the Fuyu varietal for this salad. The Fuyu (pictured throughout) is distinguished by its flat bottom and squash shape and sort of resembles an orange tomato. The Fuyu can be eaten while still firm. The heart-shaped Hachiya has a pointy bottom and a deep orange-red color. If not fully ripened, it imparts a horrible astringent and furry taste and is basically inedible. If you've never had the experience, I can confidently tell you that it's not a great sensation in the mouth. (For what it's worth, the Hachiya is more appropriate for baking/roasting anyway). But persimmons are wonderful little fruits and a welcome seasonal ingredient.
One final note: I'm still adjusting to my new camera and lens -- which I love -- so if the photos look slightly off, I apologize and promise it will only get better from here. Which is to say, please keep checking back!
Shaved Fennel, Persimmon, and Walnut Salad w/Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette (v/gf)
For the salad
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced paper thin
2 persimmons, sliced paper thin
2-3 cups arugula
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp maple syrup (or more to taste)
2 tbsp toasted walnut oil
Prepare the Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and walnut oil. Taste and sweeten with additional maple syrup, to taste.
Toast the walnuts in a skillet over medium heat for about 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly fragrant.
Slice the fennel and persimmons thinly in a food processor or with a sharp knife. For the fennel, cut off the stalks and trim the ends. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise, remove the core (save for snacking), and slice the fennel crosswise into paper thin wisps. For the persimmons, cut them in half lengthwise and slice thinly into half moons.
In a large salad bowl, toss the shaved fennel with half of the vinaigrette and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the persimmons, arugula, and walnuts to the fennel. Gently toss the salad with as much of the remaining vinaigrette as you'd like and season lightly with sea salt. Serve immediately.
Note: Slice the fennel and persimmons as thinly as possible. I have a dim view of mandolines so I would recommend a food processor with a shredding/slicing attachment or a sharp knife and some patience. About an eighth of an inch or thinner is best for both the fennel and the persimmons. You may substitute the walnut oil with olive oil, avocado oil, or a different nut oil.