Friday, February 22, 2013

Escarole and Hazelnut Salad

So, I've been in a little bit of a dark leafy green winter funk. Over the past few months, I happily crafted my share of souped and stewed collared greens, sautéed swiss chard, braised mustard greens, and anything and everything kale. Kale is my absolute favorite. Hi my name is Rachel, and I'm addicted to kale.

But then, something terrible happened. I started getting sick of kale! I found myself browsing various green-leafed bunches at the grocery, avoiding eye-contact with my go-to veggie. Yes, the one that I answer the "if I could eat one thing for the rest of my life" question with. (Well, that and Carvel ice-cream cake, but I figure kale is the more sustainable option.) To save my relationship with kale, I needed to find a temporary replacement—and fast!
Enter escarole. The chicory leaf is common in hearty white bean soups, and after reading high praise for preparation both raw and cooked, I decided to try this versatile veggie in the kitchen. Upon first glance, it looks just like lettuce. But oh how looks deceive: the raw escarole was bitter and crunchy, almost endivesque. And while the leaf is a bit too biting on it's own, this Escarole and Hazelnut Salad enlaces the delicate escarole leaves in a sweet, creamy hazelnut dressing, tossed lightly amongst tart apples, smooth cheddar and pert raw onions. The result? Absolute perfection between bitter and sweet. This winter salad's tones are warm, just like it's fiery colors—a most fitting antidote to a gloomy, February day.
Let's talk about this ridiculously good dressing. Like, a literal awesome-sauce. The garlicky nature and creamy thickness make it similar to a caesar, but think a more lithe, velvety version. (And in the very best way. I abhor caesar salad.) If you could combine the best of both worlds of a creamy dressing and zesty vinaigrette, this would be it. The coarse hazelnuts create the thickness, and the wonderful nuttiness is accompanied by nuances of honey and apples, thanks to the cider vinegar. The dressing is sweet, tangy and textured, a welcomed substantive coating for the crisp escarole, raw apple and toasted nuts.
Being a dark leafy green, escarole is, of course, super health-charged. One cup of chopped raw escarole has only 7 calories, plus fiber, folate, vitamins A, C & K; plus other anti-inflammatory minerals. Besides a kick-ass salad starter, escarole is great in sautés, soups, and pastas.

This recipe hails from the Margarett Waterbury Collection in Culinate, one of my favorite cooking communities.  The adjustments I made to the original recipe are negligible; really more to accomodate the ingredients I already had in the fridge. For example, I used red gala apples instead of green, and yellow cheddar rather than white. Out of laziness I did not remove the hazelnut skins. However, one calorie-conscious move I made was to eliminate the hazelnut oil: while I'm sure it's delicious, I did not own any, and wanted to half the oil to lower the calories anyway. The end result was absolutely wonderful without it.

Escarole and Hazelnut Salad (from Culinate)
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

Dressing
¼ cup roasted hazelnuts, papery skins removed (skin removal optional)
2 Tbsp. hazelnut oil (optional; omit for a lower calorie dressing)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 to 4 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. apple-cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
1 garlic clove
Salt and pepper
Salad
1 head escarole
1 Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup thinly sliced red onions
½ cup shaved extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese
½ cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped

Directions

1. Make the dressing: Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and whirl until emulsified. The hazelnuts may make this very, very thick, almost like a mayonnaise; if it seems too thick, thin to your preference by whisking in additional tablespoons of water or vinegar. Taste for seasonings, and adjust if necessary.

2. Prep the escarole: Wash the escarole thoroughly before slicing it into bite-sized pieces. Then, since escarole can be very sandy and nothing is less fun to eat than a gritty leaf, wash the cut pieces again and dry them thoroughly.

3. Assemble the salad: Put the escarole in a large salad bowl. Add the apples, onions, and cheese, then toss with enough dressing to thoroughly coat. Scatter the hazelnuts on top just before serving, so everybody is sure to get some and they don’t all fall sadly to the bottom of the bowl.

Sources:
"Nutrition Facts: Chicory Greens, Raw." SELF Nutrition Data. SELF, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
"Winter Greens Buyer's Guide." EatingWell. EatingWell, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

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