- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Long ago, when I went to France as a college student for a year of study, I discovered that a salad could be more than a wedge of iceberg topped with store-bought dressing.

I ate platefuls of mixed greens lightly coated with bracing vinaigrettes, and savored bowls of delectable composed salads that featured a variety of well-paired ingredients.

The French, I observed, were masters of the salad. Simple salads — made with greens and vinaigrette — were used as a transition between the main course and dessert, while composed salads usually began a dinner or anchored a light lunch or supper.

I have a real fondness for composed salads and never fail to be inspired by them when I return to France. During a recent visit, I indulged in more than a few such salads. An unusual combo of warm seasonal vegetables (turnips, cauliflower, potatoes and green beans) tossed in a light dressing, and a robust lentil, shallot and walnut salad tossed in a mustard vinaigrette, each brought a smile to my face and inspired today’s recipe for Belgian endive, green bean and walnut winter salad.

To make it, I prepared a classic vinaigrette with sherry vinegar and a generous dollop of Dijon mustard, and used it to nap green beans (cooked until tender), thinly sliced red onion and julienned Belgian endive. Toasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese provided crunchy and creamy accents.

Salads like this make distinctive yet easy dishes for entertaining, since they can be mostly readied in advance, then quickly assembled at serving time. I’m planning to use this special winter salad as an opener for a dinner party next week, and to follow it with sauteed lamb chops and roasted red skin potatoes. I could also serve it with a bowl of soup or an omelette and a crusty baguette for lunch or supper, the way they might well do in France.

Belgian endive, green bean and walnut winter salad

VINAIGRETTE:

2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar

1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons olive oil

SALAD:

½ pound haricots verts or tender slim green beans, ends trimmed

1 medium red onion

2 medium (about 5 ounces each) heads Belgian endive

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (see note)

3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) crumbled, creamy goat cheese

For the vinaigrette, whisk vinegar, mustard, ½ teaspoon salt and several grindings of pepper together in a large, nonreactive bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. (Dressing can be prepared a day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and whisk well before using.)

For the salad, cook haricots verts or green beans in a medium pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 5 minutes for haricots verts, or 6 to 8 minutes for larger beans. Drain beans in a colander, then rinse under cold running water until cool.

Pat beans dry with a clean kitchen towel. (Beans can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Leave wrapped in a towel at room temperature.) Halve onion through stem end and slice it very thinly to yield 1 cup loosely packed, sliced onion. Save any extra for another use. (Onion can be sliced 4 hours ahead. Cover and leave at room temperature.)

When ready to assemble salad, halve endives lengthwise and cut halves into long thin strips. Add endive, green beans and onion to bowl of vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Divide salad evenly and mound on four salad plates. Garnish each serving with chopped walnuts and crumbled goat cheese. Makes 4 servings.

Note: To toast walnuts, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned and aromatic, 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and cool.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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