This is not your every day salad. It is inspired by a salad I used to make 50+ times a night at a sweet French restaurant in Vancouver in my late teens/early twenties. Every ingredient spoke to me and I literally craved it when I wasn’t at work. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that unlike the other things I was grazing on all night at work (leftover duck fat pomme rissolées and a staff jar of nutella, poorly hidden on the pastry shelf), this salad alone is what gave me the energy I needed to get through a long service every night.
Belgian endive (a form of chicory) also known as witloof (white leaf) is a pale, torpedo-shaped….lettuce option. It is pale because it doesn’t see the light of day, so it doesn’t form chlorophyll. Even at the grocery story, you’ll often find it hiding in the box it came in. If you work for a French chef, you will get in trouble for not putting the lid back on the box when you grab a handful of them from the walk-in mid-service. They like it dark.
I believe this is to keep the bitterness to a minimum. With most lettuce-style veg, the darker outer leaves are usually more bitter than their paler inner leaves or ‘heart’. (This is why it’s important to eat the whole veg, not just buy romaine or celery ‘hearts’, it generally balances itself out flavour and nutrition-wise when you eat the whole thing). If you leave Belgian endive out in the sunlight it’s yellow parts will turn green and a little bitterer (I had no idea this was a word) –not great if Julia Child is coming for dinner, but the perfect love letter to your liver.
Despite its sheltered, shady life, Belgian endive is still bitter. It is also sweet and buttery and so balanced as a vegetable you just want to stand up and clap for it. Its leaves make a natural scoop shape for any of your favourite dips, and it will add new and different flashes of excitement to any of your regular salad recipes (this is a good one too).
I have paired it with peppery, chlorophyll-endowed watercress, sweet, fresh mission figs (if it’s not fig season, use any seasonal fruit –apples, pears, concord grapes, you may have to adjust the water amounts for the dressing though), and hazelnuts. I have left the hazelnuts in the salad raw, but a light toasting will add an intense dimension to its sweet, buttery, peppery salad-mates.
The dressing is creamy, thanks to some soaked ‘activated’ hazelnuts, raw apple cider vinegar, a bit of extra virgin olive oil and more fresh figs. The salad ingredients all have strong backbones that hold up well to this dressing and the echoed ingredients in both the salad and dressing combine well together. And its pink, you guys.
When I was 21, my sister and I took a break from backpacking around Europe to work for the summer on a Greek Island. I remember walking to and from the restaurant, watching the locals snoozing under fig trees, the ripe fruit splitting open on the trees and falling on the ground around them. It made me wonder how I had managed to skip the sleep under a Greek fig tree experience and dive straight back into a stress-inducing restaurant job while basically on vacation.
Figs benefit your lungs and large intestine (and therefore your digestion) but they are also there to remind us to be a little bit less North American and to embrace the siesta once in a while. I’m pretty sure. Part of that is taking the time to treat yo self with a salad that tastes good, loves your body back, is speedy to prepare and is full of possibly new and certainly wonderful treats.
- 6 Belgian Endive, cut into pieces horizontally
- 1-2 c Watercress, cut into pieces
- ⅓ c Hazelnuts, raw or lightly toasted
- 1 Shallot, diced small/minced
- 6-8 Mission Figs, cut into wedges
- ¼ c Hazelnuts, soaked for 8-12 hours, drained and rinsed
- 1 Tbsp Shallot, chopped
- 3 Tbsp Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 small Mission Figs (or 1-2 large)
- 1-2 c water (enough to bring it together in your blender and get a good consistency)
- Sea(weed) Salt to taste
- Toss ingredients together with the dressing and serve.
- Blend together in a blender until very smooth.