When I was in my very early twenties, I had the privilege of working as a ski guide* one winter at the 3 Valleys ski area in France. Once a week, we would eat at a lovely hillside restaurant in Courchevel where I would order the exact same lunch each visit: vichyssoise to start and their house salad as a main. The salad was an assembly of various vegetables, meats, and a hard boiled egg. A pretty haystack of juliened carrots with raisins here, a rolled up slice of ham there. My favourite part of the salad was a seemingly exotic version of coleslaw. Dense and crunchy, with a creamy, lemon-tanged dressing, this turned out to be a staple French salad that uses celery root instead of cabbage as its base. I hadn’t thought of the dish in years until I was at the Italian Centre this week and stumbled upon actual celery root with the celery still attached.
I ran it through the food processor using the grater attachment, which gave it exactly the right shape and texture as I’d remembered. Here it is in the bowl, ready to be dressed up:
I’m a little embarrassed to reveal that I keep Hellman’s 1/2 fat mayo in the fridge, but it’s what Adam likes, and heck, I grew up on the stuff and don’t mind a little every now and then. If I was being truly authentic, I would have made mayonnaise myself, or at least used a high quality full-fat variety, but as I was just whipping up a little lunch, Hellman’s it was.
I adapted the recipe from French Women Don’t Get Fat – unabashedly one my favourite cookbooks – substituting capers for chopped up pickles, and using a smidge more Dijon than called for and sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. And while perhaps lacking the intense satisfaction that can only come from a morning of skiing and breathing in high altitude alpine air, the result was pretty close to what I remember from all those years ago: a tasty, hefty salad; the capers giving it a necessary pop of saltiness and a texture, the edges of the celery root absorbing the lemony dressing and lending a bit of chew with the crunch.
* I want to be clear: there are legitimate, trained ski guides in Europe who are highly educated professionals trained in mountaineering. I was/am NOT one of these. I was paid by a tour operator to take guests staying at a chalet around the large resort at which we were based. It was possibly the best job I’ve ever had.