When I make salad for dinner, it tends to be a one-bowl affair: I toss greens, grains, beans and other vegetables together with their dressing so you can get a taste of just about everything with each forkful.
Every now and then, though, I'm reminded of the sheer beauty of the composed salad (or, to be all French about it,
salade composée) when I see a plate arranged so artfully it could pass for a still life. I got one of those reminders at the new D.C. restaurant La Piquette recently when, for one of the brunch courses, chef Francis Layrle served me a salad of beets, baby leeks, yogurt and walnuts that was a study in soothing simplicity. But it was more than the arrangement that soothed; Layrle had also cooked the leeks in a way that rendered them perfectly tender, with a clarified flavor and a hint of smokiness.
How? He charred them black on the grill, which caused them to steam inside; then he peeled them.
I had to try it at home, especially after I spied a pile of baby leeks for sale by the bunch at the farmers market. I don't have good ventilation in my new kitchen, though, so rather than pull out the grill pan I charred them under the broiler -- my favorite indoor substitute for an outdoor grill. And to give the salad main-course heft, I turned his lovely swipe of yogurt into a walnut cream, brightened with a little orange zest.
Leek, Beet and Orange Salad With Walnut Cream
Toast the nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan as needed to avoid scorching. The walnut cream can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. The roasted beets and charred leeks can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before using. From Joe Yonan, author of “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook.”
1 pound beets, scrubbed and trimmed
1 pound thin leeks, white and light-green parts
2 medium oranges
1 cup walnut halves or pieces, toasted
¾ cup plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
¼ cup sunflower sprouts or other micro greens, for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
Wrap beets tightly in foil. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet until tender when pierced with a skewer, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. Unwrap; when they are just cool enough to be handled, hold them under running water and rub off/discard the skins. Cut the beets into thick slices or chunks. (If you use baby beets, serve them whole or halved.)
Position an oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiling element or flame; preheat to broil.
Broil leeks on a rimmed baking sheet until deeply charred, turning as necessary. Cool slightly, then peel off/discard charred skin and tops.
Finely grate 2 teaspoons of zest (no pith) from 1 orange into the bowl of a food processor. Use a knife to remove all of the peel and pith from both oranges, then cut into chunks, discarding seeds.
Add ¾ cup of the walnuts, the yogurt and a pinch of salt to the food processor; puree to form a thick walnut cream. Taste, and add salt as needed.
Place a large dollop of walnut cream on each plate. Arrange the leeks, beets and oranges on and around it. Add more cream, if desired. Scatter remaining ¼ cup of walnuts over the portions. If desired, scatter with sunflower sprouts or other micro greens. Sprinkle the beets and leeks lightly with sea salt, and serve.
Per serving: 340 calories, 12 g protein, 40 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 21 g sugar