Salt, fat, acid and heat are serious culinary buzzwords right now.
It was likely the 2017 release of Samin Nosrat’s cookbook, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking and her more recent 2018 Netflix series of four episodes of the same name–one for each of the elements–that have inspired many people to follow her food philosophy–salt, fat, acid, heat–which promises to tickle all of your taste buds.
Though this is not an original concept, Samin presents her philosophy in a quirky, fun and relaxed way that home cooks can relate to and embrace. She is self-effacing, earnest and completely disarming and wants to help home cooks free themselves from the tyranny of having to follow rigid recipes. Her theory of balance–salt, fat, acid, heat–is a solution to all of your kitchen and culinary conundrums.
Samin worked in the revered Chez Panisse kitchen, Alice Water’s restaurant in Berkeley, California, where she really learned how to cook. Now, she wants home cooks to develop this same informed and intuitive form of cooking she relies on to bring life to every dish. Samin says her philosophy is as reliable as a compass and I tend to agree.
Salt, fat, acid and heat have always been central players in my kitchen. Need to spice up a soup? Add a few shakes of red chile flakes. If a vinaigrette is too oily, add more acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, to give it more balance. It’s impossible to roast vegetables without plenty of olive oil and, being a Maldon salt freak, I know the vital role salt plays in our food. Merely adding a few Maldon flakes to the plated food before serving makes a huge difference in elevating the flavors.
In spite of my belief in this salt, fat, acid and heat philosophy, the combination of celery, dates, shaved Parmesan and golden toasted almonds continues to haunt me. It’s a recipe I have had in my file for a long time. It hails from Joshua McFadden’s 2017 cookbook Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, but I haven’t mustered the courage to test it out of fear that it won’t work–and I’ll be stuck with leftovers of a weird salad for days. The fact that this dish graces the cover of the cookbook should have given me some reassurance it was a winning recipe, but it didn’t.
Why is it that we let fear keep us from experiencing new things? Fear be damned, I made half of this salad as a test and have since made it twice in the last three days and we have devoured every last bite. Yes, even David has fallen for this salad that is supremely sensational and celebrates winter in a wild and flavorful way.
The crispy and wet celery, the sweet and chewy date chunks, the salty Parmesan and perfectly toasted almonds may sound like unlikely companions, but once you have had the pleasure of this simple salad dressed with equal parts lemon juice and olive oil and a few shakes of red chile flakes, you, like me, will wonder how you ever lived without it.
Just as Nosrat’s four focus mantra purports, this salad comes to life in your mouth and hits all of the right notes–salt, fat, acid and heat.
Celery Salad with Dates, Parmesan and Toasted Almonds
Salt, fat, acid and heat are the drivers of this salad that will have you craving it on a regular basis. It's super easy to throw together and you probably already have the ingredients. Crisp, earthy, sweet, salty and nutty with a hint of spice, this salad is everything.
- 8 stalks celery leaves separated and reserved, tough fibers peeled off and sliced on the bias
- 4 Medjool dates pitted and chopped
- 1/2 cup almonds toasted and roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice about 1 1/2 lemons
- 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese shaved with a vegetable peeler, and a few more shavings for garnishing each serving
If your celery is a little wimpy and needs some crisping, place the sliced celery in a bowl of ice water. Let is soak for about 20 minutes to amp up its crispness. Drain and pat dry and place in a medium bowl. If your celery is fresh and plenty crispy, skip this step.
To a medium bowl, add the celery, celery leaves, chopped dates, toasted almonds, lemon juice, red chile flakes and toss together.
Season generously with salt and black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Add the Parmesan and olive oil and toss gently. Taste again and adjust the seasonings, if needed, so you have a balanced salad of salty, tart, sweet and a little heat.
Divide into 2 generous servings or four side salad servings or pile it all on one plate and let everyone serve themselves. Add a few more Parmesan shavings on each dish and serve.