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Shredded Salads: Meals For The Lazy Cook

There are many types of lazy cooks. Some are can-opener lazy. Some are pass-me-the-takeout-menu lazy. A great many are Trader Joe's lazy (you know who you are). And some of us are makes-no-sense lazy -- we're too lazy to buy bread, so we flail around for six hours and make some. Too lazy to hunt for blanched almonds, so at midnight we're boiling them ourselves and grumpily slipping the skins, or we're picking bugs off the tomatoes we grew because the farmers market was just too much of a schlep.

Summer inspires the lazy cook to dizzying new feats of laziness. Liquid lunches, random fruit meet-ups, meals consisting of things you can throw in a blender -- anything to avoid summer's Public Enemy No. 1: the stove. I think it's fair to say that wherever you have the absence of a stove, you very soon have salads. Especially shredded salads, which is to say the type of salads that do not require a knife to eat. That's because if you're a lazy cook, you have no problem with a fork, but you have mixed feelings about a second piece of silverware. It might get in the way of the paperback novel you're trying to keep open on the table.

They're good to go at any time during the four days they'll keep in the refrigerator. Most of them just sit there patiently, thinking chilly vegetable thoughts. And when you finally get 'round to them, they'll be fresh, fork-ready and tasting as good as or better than the day you made them.

Shredded salads are, almost by definition, cold salads. Not only do you not have to turn on the stove, but there's also no hurry to get to the table, because they're good to go at any time during the four days they'll keep in the refrigerator. Most of them just sit there patiently, thinking chilly vegetable thoughts. And when you finally get 'round to them, they'll be fresh, fork-ready and tasting as good as or better than the day you made them.

Let's talk for a minute about what we mean by "shredded." The point of shredding is to reduce food to a bite-ready size. The original shredded salad is, probably, cole slaw. You may love it or hate it, but you never have to use more than one utensil to eat it. It's a straight shot from plate to mouth with a fork, which is a fine thing when you're too lazy to fiddle with a knife.

The same is true whether your salad has grated shreds, sliced shreds or finely chopped shreds. In the end, all roads lead to Rome.

Short of eating nothing but raw fruit for the entire summer, the shredded salad is probably the closest a lazy cook can come to not cooking at all. There are no greasy pots to scour, no extra silverware to set and, best of all, not a lick of flame. And consider this: Is it so much harder to slice two cabbages than one? Play your cards right, and you could end up with enough shredded salad not to cook for three days.

If you are a lazy cook who also works from home, I should warn you that you may soon find yourself floating some disturbing scenarios in lazy-upmanship, like drinking straight from the tap instead of pouring water into a glass, or eating your salad straight out of the prep bowl. Next thing you know, you'll be leaving the fork and the bowl out in the rain so Mother Nature can do the dishes. You might find yourself concluding that you might as well save a few steps by just eating over the sink.

Enjoy it while it lasts. Because soon enough, summer will be over, and you'll be pulling out those hard-to-scrub roasting pans once again and regarding the very same sink with loathing.

Shredding Options

Shredded with your fingers: Ideal for irregular textures, such as cooked chicken breast or salmon and easily bruised herbs such as basil. If you want an absolutely no-prep-utensil salad, you could add friable cheeses such as goat cheese or feta and crumble them in. Walnuts or pecans are good for breaking up with your fingers, too. You could toast them first, but that would mean turning on the stove.

Shredded with a grater: The way to go if you're dealing with hard root vegetables -- carrots or beets in particular. Fine, fresh shreds are great for texture, as long as you don't let them sit around and get soggy with dressing. The texture of coarse shreds holds up a bit longer in a marinade. For stability and speed, a box grater works best, but mind your knuckles.

Shredded with a knife: The minimalist approach. A good sharp knife is all you need for regular-shaped greens like cabbage. It's also just fine for thin-sliced cucumber salads, as long as you're patient and not easily bored. If you're the sort of person who's better at focusing in short, intense bursts, use a slicer.

Shredded with a slicer: Sometimes you want a real shredfest of a salad, with multiple vegetables. For sheer volume, there is nothing better than a mandoline slicer -- either a traditional mandoline (the home version of a deli slicer -- a fixed blade within a fixed frame), or an angled-blade Benriner slicer. Finger-oriented people have a special horror of these, so hide them when your musician friends come to visit. You can use the Cuisinart with the feeder tube and the shredder attachment and tell them you used the plastic pusher (even if you can't actually find it).

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

T. Susan Chang regularly writes about food and reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe, NPR.org and the Washington Post. She's the author of A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories From a Well-Tempered Table (2011). She lives in western Massachusetts, where she also teaches food writing at Bay Path College and Smith College. She blogs at Cookbooks for Dinner.