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Fonio, beet, and celery leaf salad

Updated: Jan 23

There was no way I was turning on my oven last week. We ate a lot of salad and homemade sushi, and I attempted vichyssoise (meh). When it gets this hot, I'm happy with cereal for dinner. There is a limit to how much salad anyone can be expected to eat. And I have eaten a lot of salad in my time. There have been years of my life that I ate sad desk salads every day.

Almost everyone in Finance eats lunch at their desks in order to be able to get home at a decent hour. There was usually a cafeteria in the places I worked, and some people did stay to eat, but not many. I have largely worked for foreign banks, and newly transferred foreign colleagues thought it was disgusting that Americans ate at their desks. I have to agree, and the office worker takeout salad has got to be the most depressing aspect of this sad practice.

There was a certain degree of obsessiveness involved in my own desk salads over the years. There was the two-year stretch when, as a risk manager at an asset management firm, I did not pick up my phone, because if I did I would either 1) be yelled at, or 2) the trader I was speaking to would later deny having said whatever I had been told. For this reason, I only dealt with requests over email, and then discovered that Microsoft Outlook has timed self-destruct emails. During those two years I ate Caesar salad every day. I have not been able to stand the sight of it since.

More recently, I was stuck on a salad of romaine, avocado, tuna, red onion, and edamame. This salad was purchased in the basement of a glass tower at the bottom of Manhattan Island, and so therefore cost $15. Unlike many female office workers, I never felt compelled to eat salad, as I did not make my living off my torso, and remained completely unashamed of eating strange-smelling food in front of others. I liked salad. Other people's salads bothered me immensely, however. I would have preferred the odor of microwaved broccoli or bbq ribs rather than see a colleague pick at his plastic clam of leaves all afternoon. And I can't get over what people think are acceptable food combinations.

The absolute worst food in the world has got to be the midtown deli buffet "pasta salad." Let's start with the fact that this abomination involves mayonnaise, and is sitting on a steam table in the middle of New York City. Then consider what some people will try to do to it. Once in my own company cafeteria, I can recall seeing a co-worker take a huge styrofoam container and, unheeding the little molded dividers inside it, proceeded to fill it with randomized offerings from our overpriced hepatitis bar, including mayo-soaked pasta spirals, raw vegetables, sliced fruit, kimchi, olives, a dill and cucumber vinagrette, and a variety of nuts and seeds. I did not get a good look at this person, since I was transfixed with horror at their lunch. But I did watch the corridors and elevators at my firm for a long time after that, looking for the billy goat that got past the HR recruiter.

I brought my salad ruts home, and have been eating just plain butter or bibb lettuce with a balsamico vinagrette, so I decided to experiment with completely new ingredients. It was also an opportunity to overcome my aversion to grain salads, which I associate with dismal carob-smelling people in rope-y sandals.

Fonio is a grain native to West Africa just starting to be known outside of its place of origin. Fonio is high in fiber and gluten-free. It is not only fast-growing (maturing in as little as six to eight weeks) and multipurpose (it can be eaten like couscous, or used to make porridge or beer), but it can grow in poor soil in arid climates with no irrigation. Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam has been working to popularize this highly sustainable grain that may soon be needed to feed more and more people, given increasing frequency of droughts all over the world. Fonio could be an interesting change of pace in recipes with quinoa, farro, or couscous. With its delicate nutty flavor, it would be outstanding in tabbouleh. Pierre Thiam markets his own brand of fonio, which is now found at Whole Foods.

I also used leaves from a particularly lush stalk of farmers' market celery. I always stayed away from the celery I saw at farm stands, because it was so dark and skinny. I thought it would be tough and fibrous. Not true. Farm stand celery has so much more flavor than the grocery store kind. It's really fantastic braised in soups and stews, and its faintly peppery leaves, similar to arugula, are delicious in salads, and bring an extra depth of flavor to basil pesto.

Fonio, beet, and celery leaf salad


1/2 cup of fonio

1/2 cup frozen edamame

1 raw beet (I know some beet-haters...carrots can work, too)

1 packed cup of celery leaves (keep any remaining portions of celery stalk attached to leaves and dice very fine)

1/4 cup of toasted nuts (I used pignoli)

thinly sliced red onion

salt and pepper

white wine vinegar

grapeseed oil


Fonio cooks very fast, just like couscous.

Add 1 cup of water to the fonio in a saucepan with a tablespoon of oil or butter, and a few pinches of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Let stand covered for five minutes, then set aside.

Shred beet (or carrot) with a box grater.

Rinse edamame with hot water until thawed. Drain and set aside.

Combine the above ingredients with celery leaves, diced celery stalk, red onion, and nuts, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk together 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil, season with salt and pepper, and add to the salad to taste.

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