A little more than a year ago, my friend Mitzi, a massage therapist, and her colleague Rhonda told me about a salad that acts as an outstanding liver tonic. You slice head cabbage, grate raw beet, and chop some walnuts. You mix all this together with lemon juice, if I remember right, and olive oil. You let the vegetables wilt, and you eat a little of the salad every day.
The recipe sounded Russian to me, although the cabbage wasn’t supposed to ferment. And olive oil? That couldn’t be right. Such a salad would be very good with toasted walnut oil. And it might be even better—and certainly most Russian, with sunflower oil.
I don’t mean refined sunflower oil, the stuff used for deep-frying. I mean cold-pressed sunflower oil, the kind sold in every Russian grocery. This golden oil has a powerful fragrance and flavor, like a mouthful of raw sunflower kernels. It can take getting used to.
As far as I knew my liver was perfectly healthy, but that same day I made Mitzi’s salad, with sunflower oil. The first batch lasted only two or three days, because my husband liked it as much as I did. Somehow this salad seemed perfect for early autumn. Perhaps it really worked as a seasonal tonic. I made two more batches before I tired of the salad.
A week ago, I had a sudden craving for head cabbage. This was odd, because I greatly prefer Asian over European brassicas. Some years I don’t plant even one head of cabbage. After all, collards and kale are almost the same thing, and they are so much more practical, in that you can harvest from a single plant for months (or years, as in the case of my Yellow Cabbage Collard).
And then for some reason I thought of beets, and my mouth watered again. I remembered Mitzi’s salad. After months of eating tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers every day, it was time to eat cabbage and beets.
Here is Mitzi’s salad as I made it last week and again yesterday:
1½ pounds white head cabbage (half a 3-pound head), sliced fine
1 red beet, about 6 ounces, peeled and grated
¾ cup walnuts, chopped (toast them before chopping them, if you like)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons (about ¼ cup)
About ¾ teaspoons salt, to taste
¼ cup sunflower oil (or toasted walnut oil, if you have no Russian grocery nearby)
Toss together the cabbage, beet, walnuts, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Add the oil, and toss again. Let the vegetables wilt for at least a half-hour before you eat the salad. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. The salad will taste even better the next day.
Makes about 2 quarts