My husband and I used to frequent a French bistro in the Southport neighborhood of Chicago called Bistrot Zinc, a charming, Parisian-inspired eatery with a small retail section. That restaurant closed years ago, but another location thrives in the Gold Coast neighborhood. The name derives from its bar, made of solid zinc so we were told, which is beautiful, impressive and glows in the dim lights of evening, setting the atmosphere and excitement for the fabulous meal shortly to come.
We preferred eating at the bar and chatting with the friendly staff. While my husband’s broad palette was tempted by every creation on the menu, my vegetarian tendencies at the time limited my choices. However, my guaranteed-to-please starter was always their endive salad with roquefort, walnuts and Banyuls vinaigrette. As it was quite a sizeable portion, it frequently served as my entire meal.
Wanting to re-create the salad for dinner parties at home, I went in search of Banyuls vinegar. Much to my dismay, the cost of a bottle exceeded by a fair amount what I generally paid for wine. Ok, I’m not a wine person, but I still have a general awareness of what a decent bottle costs, and when vinegar tops that, I just can’t go there. Plus, I try to make my cooking more accessible, using ingredients that are generally pantry staples. So I tried substituting alternatively fresh lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar and the salad came out great each time, though perhaps not with the same finish the Banyuls can deliver.
The Bistrot Zinc salad was also made with frisee, or curly endive, which was my favorite part. The spikey, peppery, slightly bitter vegetable was fun to look at, fun to chew and worked well against the sweetness of the vinaigrette. However, finding frisee in the grocery store can be a challenge. I find it occasionally at Whole Foods but not with any consistency. So I substitute anything I can find, but usually end up using romaine and Belgian endive, which still has the peppery bite, but is far easier to come by.
The salad can be made vegan by simply leaving out the cheese and using agave nectar instead of honey. Try throwing in some chopped dried cranberries to give a nice bite and pop of color.
Now I know this is going to be a shocker, but when I make this salad for parties, I usually include crumbled bacon! I find getting my guests, and especially their kids, to eat fresh vegetables far easier when they are cloaked in bacon. Don’t judge me. We all do what we can.
Romaine lettuce – 1 head washed thoroughly
Belgian endive – 1medium-sized head
1 granny smith apple – small dice
½ cup walnuts – chopped
½ cup blue, stilton, gorgonzola or roquefort cheese – crumbled (optional) or substitute chopped dried cranberries
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, balsamic or apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. honey or agave nectar for vegans
sea salt & pepper to taste
- Make the dressing by placing the olive oil, Dijon mustard, vinegar or lemon juice and honey in a small jar and shake until mixed. Then add salt & pepper to taste.
- Chop the granny smith apple into small diced pieces. I use the Vidalia Chop Wizard for this to make it fast.
- Slice the endive in ribbon-like pieces.
- Chop the romaine into bite-size pieces.
- Place apple, endive, romaine, walnuts and cheese (or cranberries) into salad bowl. Add dressing a small amount at a time and mix well until everything is coated, but not dripping, with salad dressing. The dressing should be very light on this salad. Store remaining dressing in the fridge for a week.
- Serve immediately. If storing in the fridge, keep salad and dressing separate as salad will wilt.