Let’s be honest: The thrill of going apple-picking each fall is less about the actual apples and more about getting out of the city, feeling a more brisk temperature and marking the end of clothing-lite summer. It also doesn’t hurt to have an excuse to eat doughnuts and drink beer.
Every year, we pick those bushels of apples and say we’re going to use them for pies and baked goods, but half of them rot by the time we get around to using them. Yes, fall apples are great when baked with cinnamon and butter and all the usual suspects, but what I love most is eating good, in-season apples raw. Out of hand is nice, of course, but that’s for your everyday apple. When you get your hands on some spectacular specimens like, say, a Mutsu or Melrose, both in farmers markets right now, it’s time to switch up the routine.
To dress up the apples a bit, throw yourself a curve ball and make this salad. I start by shaving the apples, with their skins on, on a mandoline so you get super-thin slices that shatter, rather than crunch, in your mouth. The dressing is an abrasively tart one — just lime juice and Chinese black vinegar — but it plays well off the sweet-tart apples in markets now. Cilantro is added for herbal freshness that feels punchier than parsley, and freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano adds necessary fat and saltiness.
Lastly, taking a cue from my favorite childhood snack of apples with peanut butter, I scatter toasted peanuts over the apples. The peanuts are tossed with a little toasted sesame oil, which oddly makes the peanuts taste more like peanuts. A final dusting of lime zest drives home the bitter-acid punch of the citrus in the dressing. It’s an indelicate balance of flavors, but one that refreshes and wakes you up, shaking you out of that warm pie and crisp routine.
Shaved Apple and Peanut Salad
Takes: 25 minutes.
Makes: 4 to 6 servings.
This salad is meant to be a showcase for apples, so get really good, sweet-tart varieties from the farmers market or your local grocery store. I love Melrose the most, and Mutsu (also called Crispin) second, but Pink Lady is also good here. Even good ol’ Granny Smith would taste great in the preparation.
1 cup raw peanuts
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 small limes
4 small tart apples (such as Melrose, Mutsu or Pink Lady), cored and quartered
2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar, sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, plus more for serving
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the peanuts on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring once halfway through, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board and roughly chop while hot. Scrape the peanuts into a small bowl, toss with the sesame oil and season with salt.
2. Using a microplane zester, remove the zest from one lime and reserve. Juice the two limes and pour the juice in a large bowl. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, very thinly slice the apples, transferring them to the bowl of lime juice as you work. Pour over the black vinegar and add the cilantro leaves, then toss to combine, separating any apple slices that may stick together to ensure every piece is coated in the dressing.
3. Transfer the apple salad to a large serving platter (or divide among serving plates), spreading it out in an even layer. Season lightly with salt, then sprinkle over the chopped peanuts and reserved lime zest. Using the mandoline or a vegetable peeler, shave large sheets of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the apples. Garnish with more cilantro leaves if you like and serve.
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