Monday, February 21, 2011

Endive with Bleu Cheese, Walnuts, & Membrillo

Refreshing, delicious, and SO easy to make, this salad has everything going for it! For one thing, all the ingredients are in the title, except for a little red wine vinegar and olive oil that we used to toss the salad in. The hardest step is probably just finding the ingredients, especially for the vegan version. Once all the ingredients are put together, they make for such a crisp, fresh, and unique salad!

The sharpness and saltiness of the bleu cheese works amazingly well with the sweetness of the membrillo. Taste-wise, the endive doesn't contribute much, but its fairly rigid structure and its clean crisp texture balance the softness of the cheese and membrillo. The walnuts also add a little bit of crunch and weight to the salad. It's such a simple salad, but the flavors and textures are so complex!

If you’re veganizing this recipe (which we did), I think the hardest ingredient to find is a bleu cheese substitute. We went with Sheese brand, since they make fairly good subs for use in salads (READ: they don’t melt well but taste great when eaten cold, as is). This was ordered through Pangea. Of course, if you're not veganizing the recipe, use your favorite bleu cheese (stilton, roquefort, gorgonzola)!

Beside the endive, the most noticeable ingredient in the salad is the membrillo, which is a Spanish quince paste. It has the texture and flavor of a solid jelly that holds its shape very well. When used in the salad, its sweet, fruity flavor becomes the main focus, but its fairly solid texture allows the sweetness to be contained in manageable portions. Here are some pictures of our membrillo. We bought ours at Whole Foods, but if you can’t find it there, you can always order it online at a specialty shop. In a pinch, you may also try substituting in roasted figs or other dried fruit to approximate the texture and flavor of the membrillo. Though, if you do this, I would suggest first roasting the figs or cooking them slightly on the stove top to soften them.

The rest of the ingredients are pretty easy to come by, so if you’re not veganizing this recipe (or if you are and happen to keep a stock of various Sheese varieties on hand), this is a pretty quick salad to make as long as you know where to find your membrillo!

Endive with Bleu Cheese, Walnuts, & Membrillo
3 heads Belgian endive
½ cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
4 oz membrillo, cubed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim off the bottoms of the endive and separate the heads into leaves. Choose the best 24 leaves to use as the base of the salad and arrange them on serving platter (do not use the hearts). Chop remaining endive leaves into small pieces.

In a small bowl, toss chopped endive hearts, walnuts, blue cheese, and membrillo in the vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. You my either fill the endive "boats" by placing approximately 2 tablespoons of the salad into each endive leaf, or simply distribute the salad on top of the pre-arranged endive leaves.

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