Thank you, Michael Pollan, for this dictum. The problem is that I’m not a giraffe. If a salad is put in front of me, I’ll eat it, dutifully masticating the endless leaves of lettuce, but I never crave salads and I find the eating of salads tiresome. Salads without leaves are much better in my book, but still, I’d rather eat raw cauliflower or a cucumber instead of a jumble of uncooked veggies in a dubious dressing.
There is one salad, however, that I absolutely love, and it’s so simple that you can have it any time, any where. In short, it’s the omninvore’s solution. What’s particularly nice about this salad is it can be inflected subtly with other peppery greens, depending on what’s available. You can use arugula, endive, chicory, or frisée. I often buy Korean watercress at the Asian market, since it’s fresher in the winter than what’s usually available at the big box supermarkets, but our CSA grows arugula, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use that first. But don’t use the mixed bag of greens. This salad is meant to be a study of ingredients and contrasts. Using only one green allows the diner to appreciate the way that particular green is complemented by the nuts and the cheese. Other than the greens, I don’t recommend substitutes or additions. If you must, you can use walnuts, but it won’t be nearly as nice.
And because this is an Oregon blog, I must stress that this salad is absolutely at its best if you use Willamette Valley roasted hazelnuts and Rogue Creamery blue cheese.
Watercress Salad with Pears, Hazelnuts, and Blue Cheese
Serves: 2 for dinner, 4 as side salads
1 large bunch of watercress
1 cup roasted, unsalted hazelnuts, chopped
2 very ripe D’anjou or Bosc pears
1/2 cup crumbled Rogue Creamery or other good-quality blue-veined cheese
Toast the hazelnuts in a toaster oven until you can smell the toasty nut smell (watch so they don’t burn). Chop the leaves off the watercress after washing well in several changes of water, and chop up stems (if tender) in 1-2 inch lengths. Dry thoroughly and place in bowl. Toss in the rest of the ingredients. You should have about half greens/half other ingredients. You won’t need salt or dressing, since the cheese “melts” in to the salad when it comes in contact with the ripe pears. Add some black pepper or a tiny bit of olive oil to balance the flavors if they’re not perfectly peppery or ripe enough. Enjoy the green.