As the weather in Paris becomes increasingly springlike — hello daffodils! come sit by me on the kitchen counter! — I thought it was high time I illustrate the point I recently made about salads and the ones that carry us through to the end of winter (however mild ours has been).
The original motive for this one was to try and vanquish my dislike of endives, one of the very last bastions of my childhood aversions. It is going to require more work before I clap my hands at the thought of endives au jambon — even my mother’s — but at least this salad has flown me over the raw endive hurdle.
It’s a simple trick to play on one’s senses, really: if the taste buds recoil in the face of bitterness, they may tolerate it when balanced with sweeter, more consensual flavors. And given time and multiple exposures, they may even grow to enjoy that grown-up, mixed-signal pleasure. It is a strategy well-known to pharmaceutical companies, though one might wish they used beets and parmesan more often than the revolting artificial strawberry.
And this is how this salad works: you carve out the hearts of small endives — therein lies most of their bitterness, if only you knew what they’ve been through — and toss them with roasted beets and mâche, a fleshy winter salad for which baby spinach could be substituted.
The colorful trio receives a sprinkle of parmesan and toasted seeds — I keep a jar of pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds for such purposes — before it is dressed in olive oil paired with a tangy-sweet agent: balsamic vinegar, pomegranate molasses, this rejoicing staple of the Lebanese pantry, or oxymel, a versatile syrup of honey, vinegar, spices, and fruits with which I’ve recently been playing to lovely results.
The product of these simple steps is a good sidekick to a juicy chicken thigh or a grilled sole, and it makes a fine lunch in its own right when topped with diced ham or a poached egg. The recipe is — need I stress it? — open to endless variations in terms of dressing and accessories: I like the addition of green peppercorns, crushed, or a few cloves from a head of fresh garlic, finely minced.
Salade de Mâche, Endives et Betteraves
– 3 small endives
– 2 medium beets, roasted
– 4 bulging handfuls of mâche, a.k.a. lamb’s lettuce
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, pomegranate molasses
– Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
– 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
– 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax, hemp, or a mix of these)
Serves 4 to 6.
Carve out and discard the hearts of the endives, and slice the rest thinly. Peel the beets and dice their flesh. If your mâche came in bouquets and the roots seem a little rough, trim them; leave as is otherwise.
In a medium salad bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Add the endives and beets, and toss to coat. Season with salt, and flavor with pepper. Fold in the mâche, working gently to avoid bruising the leaves. Sprinkle with parmesan and seeds, and give the salad a final toss.
You can serve the salad immediately or let it sit in the fridge for a few hours — the mâche may wilt slightly, but the flavors will meld more deeply. The leftovers make an excellent packed lunch the next day.