Endive Salad with Dates, Walnuts, & Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

When I was attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, I lived with a family in the beautiful Bastille district, right down the street from the Gare de Lyon. Unlike most of my peers at school, I was attending school on a scholarship from the Culinary Trust of America, and I didn’t have enough money to rent my own studio- I didn’t have any money at all, in fact. With a cash advance from my credit card, I rented a large room and bathroom at the end of an apartment in which two French journalists and their four children lived. Naturally, this arrangement had upsides and down sides. On the down side, I couldn’t come straight home from lessons and practice what I’d learned; I couldn’t use their kitchen for fish scaling and fileting, or hollandaise making. On the upside, I got to see into French life more closely than my studio-renting peers.

Happily, I was invited to lunch whenever I wandered in from school and the family was eating in their kitchen. The entire family- from newborn baby to sixteen-year old son- would crowd in the tiny room around a table that comfortably seated four people and pull leftovers out of the fridge. There would be pasta, a fresh baguette, rabbit rillettes, cheese, a fresh salad, mustard, cold chicken- any number of items leftover from previous meals- and the kids could choose what they wanted to eat. (And, by the way, rabbit, pate, spicy mustard, pungent cheeses, none of these foods deterred these French children.)

The mother almost always began her meal with a large bowl of crisp endive tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. One day, I asked her about this habit and she matter-of-factly explained to me that she was trying to lose her baby weight. This seemed like such a sensible French solution: she filled up on the big bowl of endive first, before she dove into the baguette, cheese, and other, richer items. What I noticed most, however, was that her salad just looked so delicious- she put it in a big beautiful bowl, and it glistened with dressing, and crunched as she ate it. It didn’t seem like she felt deprived eating it.

I often think of her when I see endive at the store. Sometimes in this country, we treat salads as diet foods, and we try to dress them up with tons of additions to make ourselves feel full when we eat them. But fullness is so many things besides the physical feeling: it’s the feeling of having been nourished, of having had enough, of having liked what you ate, and taken time over it. It’s kind of a mind trick: if you see a salad as something beautiful that you want to eat, you’ll feel more nourished by it, and if you know that there are other things to eat besides the salad- if you want them- you’ll feel less deprived. The French!

So I made this salad in homage to that sensible French mother. In true American style I did add a few things, but only a few. This salad is crunchy, sweet, and tart, perfect as an opener to a larger meal, or as a meal in and of itself. As promised, I made it using recipes from the past two posts. If you’ve already made the Meyer lemon vinaigrette and toasted walnuts, the whole thing takes only a few minutes to put together.

Endive Salad

  1. To prepare the endive leaves: cut off about ½” of the stem end of the endive and peel the leaves off. Put the leaves in a big bowl, and continue cutting some of the stem and peeling the leaves until you get all the leaves off. Add the little heart of the endive in the middle to the bowl, as well.
  2. Cut a small slit in the dates and take out the pit. Be sure to also check the stem end of the date and remove any hard bits. Cut the dates into small slices and add them to the bowl.
  3. Crumble the walnuts into the bowl and add the 2 tablespoons of dressing and a small pinch of salt (small!). Mix the salad well and taste. If it doesn’t need any more dressing or seasoning, put the salad onto your plate (or plates).
  4. Use a vegetable peeler to “peel” pieces of the pecorino on top of the salad- as much as you’d like, really! I usually put 5-6 cheese peels. 

*Pecorino Toscano is really different from pecorino Romano, and you won't want to substitute the Romano in this salad. If you're having a hard time finding the Toscano, Trader Joe's sells a Tuscan cheese that would make a fine substitute. Parmesan is quite a different cheese, but would also taste great in this salad. BTW Trader Joe's also sells little packs of three endive, if you're having trouble finding that, too.*