A Salad in Winter? Never! (Unless It's the Right One)

Belgian Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts. Photo by Richard Swearinger.

True, at its most traditional, French cooking marches to the beat of the seasons. But even French cooks will serve a salad outside the growing season. Here’s a good choice when tender, picked-that-morning garden lettuces are nowhere to be found.

In the charming movie, “Girl from Paris,” a young Parisian woman who moves from the city to the country is invited to a curmudgeonly neighbor’s house for dinner. She offers to bring a salad.

“A salad? In winter? Never,” gasps the man.

Indeed, French cooking usually follows the seasons. Why would you have a salad in winter, with trucked-in greens so far from their peak?

Yet like the young woman in them movie, sometimes the French crave a little sparkle and a fresh (if not exactly fresh-from-the-garden) contrast to a meal. Few things achieve this like a nicely dressed salad.

But it has to be the right salad. Choose leaves that are a little hardier (and hence, travel to winter climates better) than those wonderful tender garden lettuces of summer. Endive is one such leaf, and it’s simply wonderful in my Belgian Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts. Other salads in my book that work well in winter are:

* Salad d’Hiver (Winter Salad): with figs, pine nuts, and prosciutto tossed with mixed salad greens.
* Butterhead Lettuce with Walnuts and Comté: The recipe title ingredients are tossed with a lightly Cumin-spiced Dijon vinaigrette.
* Roasted Beet Salad with Blue Cheese: Here, the stars are the the beets and blue cheese. Use just a bit of arugula to provide a bitter accent.

And don’t straightjacket yourself into serving only greens as a starter salad. First-course salads in France often star other ingredients. For example, my French Green Lentil, Leek, and Endive salad would work as a nice first course, as would a serving a side-by-side duo of Céleri Rémoulade and Carottes Rapées. Especially if you tucked an Oeuf Dur Mayonnaise on the side. What a lovely sit-down starter that would be!

Belgian Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts
Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 to 6 Belgian endives (1 pound)
3/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
3/4 cup crumbed blue cheese

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

2. Trim the endive ends so that the leaves can separate; cut each endive in half and remove the tough core. Separate the leaves, rinse under cold water, and drain well. Slice the leaves crosswise and add to the bowl of dressing, tossing to coat.

3. Add the walnuts and blue cheese and toss gently. Arrange the salad on four salad plates and serve.



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