Endive, blue cheese: A great salad remembered

by Terry B on May 2, 2007

This Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts always reminds me of one of my favorite little New York bistros. Recipe below.

First things first. Blue Kitchen is going global this week. Brazilian blogger Patricia has graciously invited me to post a recipe on her baketastic blog Technicolor Kitchen. No, I didn’t bake [and that's not all Patricia does, but when she does, it's always amazing]. I made a flavor-packed, summery pasta dish with Italian tuna and artichoke hearts—all you cook is the pasta. So check out Patricia’s fabulous blog and this easy recipe. After you read the post below, of course.

Sometimes a restaurant just clicks with you. The food, the setting, the staff—even the moment it’s part of. Lucien, in Manhattan’s East Village, is just such a place for us. The moment it fit so neatly into the first time we ate there was the first time Marion and I managed to get to New York together. Marion had spent lots of time there, and I had made a number of three-day solo forays in search of art, jazz and booze [all plentiful there, by the way]. But we only got around to getting there together when I won a trip for two on Taco Bell’s website a few years ago. Seriously.

Last week I talked about printing out reams of recipes from epicurious.com. Well, anytime I plan a trip to New York, several trees die at the hands of my printouts. In my online research for this visit with my bride, I found Lucien. The reviews looked promising, so I called to make a reservation and ended up speaking with the owner himself, Lucien Bahaj. He was charmingly self deprecating when I told him of the glowing reviews I’d read—even a little alarmed—and wanted to make sure I understood that his restaurant was just a little neighborhood bistro. I told him that was exactly what we were looking for.

And it was. Opened in 1998, Lucien has the nicotine patina of an ancient Left Bank establishment. Tile floors, mirrors on the wall, high tin ceiling and a long, dark wood bar add to the narrow storefront’s authentic French feel. And the food is just as comfortingly familiar and authentically executed. Mussels steamed in white wine, escargots, both a foie gras and a paté, steak frites, cassoulet, duck confit… All served at modest prices in a cozy, welcoming place. We try to get there every time we visit now. If we lived in New York, we’d be regulars.

As it is, we’re already treated like regulars. We walked in with our daughter Laurel one night, having last been there a year before. Our waitress from that previous visit, the lovely, multi-tattooed Lola, came up and hugged us and said, “It took you long enough to get back here!” That trip, we ate there twice. And on one of those nights, we shared a delicious salad with Belgian endive, blue cheese and walnuts as one of our starters. Here’s my shot at recreating that salad.

In trying to figure out this fondly remembered salad, I turned first to the Internet. But everything I found was too busy—red onions, pears, grapes and apples, in particular, kept showing up. Marion and I both remembered something elegantly simpler. So after much discussion, I ended up with this stripped down version that tasted darn close to our memories—and pretty darn good, if I say so myself. As a quick update, I often substitute pecans for the walnuts these days. We even like that version a little better.

Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts
Serves 2 to 3 as an appetizer

1/2 cup walnuts (or pecans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar [see Kitchen Notes]
salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
2 [or 3] largish heads Belgian endive [see Kitchen Notes]
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese [see Kitchen Notes]

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Roast walnuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet for 8 to 10 minutes. You can also toast walnuts in a dry skillet on the stove top for 5 or so minutes, but stir frequently to keep them from burning. Transfer walnuts to a plate to cool completely. Break any walnut halves into smaller pieces by hand. Some recipes say to chop them, but I think breaking them by hand works better—chopping is more mechanical and destructive, creating lots of teeny little crumbs.

While walnuts are roasting, whisk olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper together to make dressing. Set aside.

Trim off the very base of the head of endive with a knife. Carefully remove 10 or so outer leaves one at a time. You’ll probably need to slice off more of the base as you go along. If any leaves break or are less than visually perfect, reserve them to chop up for the blue cheese/walnut mixture. Rinse leaves and carefully pat dry with paper towel. Arrange in a radial pattern on plate.

Slice remainder of endive head in half lengthwise, rinse under running water and shake dry, then slice crosswise into 1/2-inch [or less] strips. Place in large bowl with walnut pieces and crumbled blue cheese and toss with dressing. Mound mixture in center of whole endive leaves and serve. Use the endive leaves to scoop up the cheese/walnut mixture.

Kitchen Notes

Vinegar and dressing. I made absolutely the most basic vinaigrette for this dish to allow the blue cheese, walnuts and slightly bitter endive flavors to shine through. I used white balsamic vinegar because regular balsamic would have discolored the blue cheese. Any white wine vinegar will do. Regarding the dressing, you’ll note I used a modest amount, just enough to gloss the salad and add a little tangy flavor. No need to drown it.

Endive. When I make this dish, I usually use two heads. And every time, I think I should buy a third next time, just in case some of the leaves are less than beautiful. And greedily speaking, the extra head would make for more scooping leaves and filling. We usually end up finishing off the filling—every last molecule of it [yes, it's that good]—with forks.

Blue cheese. You want a fairly firm blue cheese, one that will hold up and not go all creamy gooey on you. I sometimes find Maytag blue at Whole Foods, a delicious, much sought after cheese made in, of all places, central Iowa. And yes, made by those Maytags, the family that made the appliances. Since the ’40s, they’ve aged their wheels of cheese in caves, long before the word artisanal was connected to food. The Chicago Tribune’s food section ran a fascinating article on Maytag Blue in January, Blue Heaven.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen

Size matters. Big time big art in downtown Chicago at WTF? Random food for thought.

Pretty birdie. A beautiful CD cover leads to music that lives up to it at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia May 2, 2007 at 9:54 am

I’m always looking for a great New York restaurant, and as we’re not in the city as often as we used to be, I do the same thing — print out reams of suggestions, and hope to get lucky with my choices. Will definitely put Lucien on my list!

Patricia Scarpin May 2, 2007 at 12:18 pm

Terry,

If I ever go to NY (and I most certainly intend to) it will be lovely to go to this restaurant. Thank yor for sharing such good information.

This salad is a winner, I can tell. I love the ingredients you put together, the subtlety of the dressing, the presentation… Definitely something worth trying – and that would cause quite an impression next time I have friends over for dinner or Sunday lunches. The plate is so beautiful, too, Terry (I’m Scorpio, I’ll notice everything sometimes). :)

Thank you for the lovely words about my blog – what a pleasure to post that delicious recipe of yours. Oh, and there’s one more thing I need to tell you: João asked me yesterday if I’d make that pasta next time his mother comes to have lunch with us. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he really enjoyed that meal.

Carolyn May 2, 2007 at 2:37 pm

I love this salad’s ingredients. Hundreds of years ago, when my daughter was in college, parents were encouraged to send their child’s favorite recipe to the dorm’s cafeteria, so it could be cooked on a small scale for the student and a few of her friends. I sent in my daughter’s favorite salad (or was it mine?). Boston lettuce, bleu cheese, tuna, toasted walnuts, and red grapes. Her friends were into cheese pizza. She never set up the meal.

I’m going shopping for endive now.

Freya May 2, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Terry B at last I have tracked you down! Thanks for the comments left on my blog in the past – I haven’t reciprocated them because I couldn’t find where they came from! Now I know!
The salad looks delicious! I love walnuts and blue cheese!

Jennifer Hess May 2, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Terry, that salad looks delicious! I know my husband and I have walked past Lucien in the past, but we’ve never eaten there. It sounds like it’s just our cup of tea, though. Thanks, and be sure to let me know the next time you guys are in town!

Linda May 2, 2007 at 6:56 pm

YUM! I had almost the exact same salad at the little owl in the west village. so much flavor – much more than normally found in a “salad” – something considered to be such a simple dish! looks beautiful!

Helen May 2, 2007 at 8:32 pm

Hi Terry,

I loved your story about Lucien. I find it funny that I’ve been to some restaurants in other cities more than most restaurants in Boston. Sometimes I wish I lived in a particular city just because of that restaurant :)

Next time we are in NY, we’ll have to check out Lucien.

Cheers,
-Helen

Terry B May 3, 2007 at 5:27 am

To everyone who responded to Lucien, I really think you’ll enjoy it. When you make a reservation, request a table up front near the windows. Jennifer, I’m hoping we’ll get there this fall. We’ll see.

Patricia—we love the plate too. It’s an American flow blue plate, probably from the 1860s or ’70s. We picked it up in an antique shop in St. Louis [I think], back when such things were still affordable. And thanks again for inviting me to post on your blog—let me know what your mother-in-law thinks of the tuna and artichoke pasta.

Carolyn—great story as always. I bet your daughter would love that salad about now.

Linda—I’ve not been to the Little Owl. Is it still around? What is it like?

Kirsten May 3, 2007 at 6:33 am

I FINALLY found your blog!! I kept getting error messages when I tried to visit, but thanks to Patricia, all is now well :)

This salad is such a timeless piece of deliciousness – no matter how it’s prepared. Thanks for sharing!!

Kirsten

Mimi May 3, 2007 at 10:49 am

TerryB, sorry I did not get over here yesterday to read this wonderful post. Lucien sounds like my kind of places. And I love your intriguing and cryptic Kitchen Notes. You have such style. I may have to reduce my posts to one a week to come close to it…

Terry B May 3, 2007 at 1:29 pm

Kirsten—Glad you found me. Yep, there are a couple of URLs that will get you here, but the more reliable is http://bluekitchen.wordpress.com/

Mimi—With your upcoming Paris trip, I think you’ve got a few other things on your mind right now. By the way, there are a couple of Paris jazz clubs I can tell you about in the next couple of days, if you’re interested.

For me, publishing once a week is plenty of deadline pressure. As it is, I find myself writing things in my head all week long as I get ready to post. I chose Wednesdays as the traditional newspaper food day, but it’s working out practically too—I can cook on the weekend and still have a couple of days to write. But Mimi, if you followed my lead and limited your charming posts to once a week, I’m sure your fans would be disappointed—me included.

Toni May 3, 2007 at 4:57 pm

Terry – I find myself looking forward to Wednesdays. I always love your posts – both the photography and writing. It’s almost like meeting a friend once a week for lunch.

As for the salad, what can I say? All the right ingredients, put together so that the pleasure starts with the eyes. I don’t know this particular restaurant. I used to live in NY, and I still have friends and relatives who do. Next time……..

ann May 4, 2007 at 11:55 am

I’ve probably walked by this restaurant 500 times. Literally. And never eaten there. Now I feel like a fool. It’s always been on the list at the back of my brain as a place to try, but when I lived within walking distance of it, it was too close to work (I prefer a certain buffer zone that’s just too far for me to get called back there in case of “emergency”) and too far away from home.
*sigh*
Now I’ll have to make it a destination. Thanks for putting Lucien back on my radar!

Susan from Food "Blogga" May 8, 2007 at 11:42 pm

Funny thing is I do ridiculous amounts of research on restaurants before we go on vacation. Then, invariably, we end up picking a place we’ve never heard of or one that’s been recommended by a local! BTW–loved your Italian tuna pasta. My Mom sends me an Italian tuna in oil that Jeff adores. I know what I’ll be doing with my next shipment. ;)

Carey January 2, 2009 at 1:15 am

made that last night for a tapas new year’s eve dinner. Wow! As usual, your ideas always are the stand-outs! Easily my favorite course, and perfect to make ahead.

Brent Wilson December 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm

This recipe is so easy. I tried it and can definitely say it is a winner. Next time i am going to try it with a little apple or a pear.

Tanya Wills January 14, 2011 at 4:58 am

I found this recipe when searching for Endive and Blue Cheese. I must say, it’s an absolute winner! I just made it and found myself serving myself another heaping serving. Thank you so much for sharing! We’ll put the restaurant on our list next time in NY.

herkkusuun lautasella July 15, 2013 at 5:46 am

just my type of salad, delicious!

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