Making this refreshingly crisp salad could not be simpler—you toss everything together in a bowl and refrigerate for about an hour. This rest time rounds out the minerally character of the celery and softens the bite of the minced shallot. The appeal of this combination is the texture as much as the flavor, and it’s the chilling that keeps it crunchy. Be sure to thinly slice the celery (no more than ¼ inch thick) so that it isn’t fibrous. I like to include a mix of inner leaves and outer stalks, because the paler leaves have more concentrated flavor and the darker green outer stalks have more crunch. You could also add thinly sliced fennel or endive. Slivered dried apricots add a sweet note and sunny color to the pale green celery; just be sure the apricots you get are soft. If not, consider substituting another tender dried fruit, like figs or dates. The candied almond topping provides a salty-sweet crackle, but you can take things in another direction by substituting crumbles of blue cheese. Once you get the formula down, you’ll discover that there are no strict rules here; it’s more about tasting and feeling your way to a combination that works for you.
This makes a fresh addition to a holiday menu, providing contrast to the heavier roasts and usual sides. I also like to serve it as a first course before a simple stew or braise.
Get ahead: The salad needs to chill for about 1 hour before serving. If you want to make it
further in advance, assemble everything and wait to add the olive oil until 1 hour before serving.
This recipe is excerpted from All About Dinner, by Molly Stevens.
- Combine the sugar, salt, and cayenne in a small bowl and set it next to the stove. Have ready a dinner plate or baking sheet for cooling almonds.
- Toast the almonds. Scatter the almonds in a single layer in a nonstick or cast-iron skillet (a 10-inch one works well) and set over medium heat. Toast, shaking the pan and stirring the nuts with a heatproof spatula, until you can just smell the fragrance of toasting nuts and the almonds begin to take on a little color, about 4 minutes. Take care not to let them get too dark at this point, or you'll risk burning them once you add the sugar.
- Candy the almonds. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the almonds and let sit for a few seconds before resuming your shaking and stirring, then cook until the nuts are nicely browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately transfer the almonds to the plate or baking sheet to cool.
- Serve or store. Once the nuts are completely cooled, break up any clusters with your fingers. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
- Make the salad. Combine the celery, celery leaves, apricots, shallots, and vinegar in a salad bowl, tossing well. Season with a little salt and pepper and toss again. (The salad can be made up to 8 hours ahead up until this point. Cover and refrigerate.)
- Add the olive oil. Toss well and refrigerate for about 1 hour, until well chilled.
- Serve. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper; don't be afraid to season boldly. Sprinkle the candied almonds over the top and serve cold.