Why I'm Cooking Celery, Radishes, Cucumber, and Lettuce Instead of Eating Them Raw
There are certain vegetables that just scream salad: lettuces of every variety from bitter chicories to delicate leafy heads, crisp celery, spicy radishes, bright refreshing cucumbers. Texture and flavor make all of them ideal for eating raw. But somehow, for many of us, we have never fully embraced the pleasures of cooking with these salad ingredients. Which is a shame because they have so many more wonders to share with us!
Meet the vegetables that are every bit as fabulous cooked as they are raw, and how to cook them.
That darling of the crudité platter goes to a whole new place when braised. If you like braised fennel, you will love braised celery. The mild flavor really stands up to rich umami flavors, and the texture gets supple without becoming mushy. Glazed in the cooking liquids, braised celery is a surprising side dish that despite having roots in the cookery of previous centuries, feels very modern on your table today.
Get the recipe—Lemony Braised Celery with Hazelnuts
If you don't love raw radishes because of their bite, try sautéing, stir frying, or braising them to mellow their heat and bring out their sweetness. I'm not much for a raw radish myself, but I love them cooked. They really retain wonderful texture but take on a whole new flavor profile. And they make an easy swap-in for turnips in any recipe.
Get the recipe—Sautéed Radishes with Bacon and Cilantro
Lettuces especially need to come out of salad purgatory and come into their own as hot dishes. You can sauté or steam baby spring greens no different than you do baby spinach. Romaine and radicchio can stand up to the heat of a grill and take on terrific smoky flavor. Tight heads like endive or little gems can be braised in stock halved or whole or shredded and sautéed. Old-school dishes like petit pois á la francaise, peas cooked with lettuce in a buttery sauce, are ready for a reappearance, and even iceberg can be added to a stir fry with delicious results.
Get the recipe—Glazed Endive with Tarragon
Cucumbers are often the most surprising joy when served cooked. As the water evaporates out, the flavor intensifies, and the texture becomes something entirely new. You can confit them in rich olive oil, sauté in bacon fat, or braise in wine and butter and garnish with herbs to accompany any protein. And cooked cucumbers and white beans make for a gorgeous pairing.
Get the recipe—Braised Cucumbers with Dill
The best part of cooking these raw stars? It is an ideal way to salvage vegetables that are slightly past their prime, making cooking them the perfect way to avoid food waste. And now you're liberated for food substitutions: You can swap in celery in any cooked fennel recipe, radishes for any recipe calling for turnips, lettuces anywhere you would put spinach or other greens, and cucumbers in any recipe calling for bok choy. These vegetables might just get out of your salad bowl for good!