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. And I dig in forcefully.
Every now and then, though, Im reminded of the sheer beauty of the composed salad (or, to be all French about it, salade composee) 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 dont 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 (and a little more protein), I turned his lovely swipe of yogurt into a walnut cream, brightened with a little orange zest.
As the snow swirled outside, my dinner companion and I swiped bites of earthy beets and soft leeks through the cream. So civilized. So composed.
Leek, Beet and Orange Salad With Walnut Cream
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 Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).
1 pound beets, preferably baby beets, scrubbed and trimmed
1 pound leeks, preferably baby or thin leeks, white and light-green parts
2 medium oranges of your favorite variety
1 cup walnut halves or pieces, toasted (see Note below)
3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt (may substitute low-fat or regular yogurt)
1/4 cup sunflower sprouts or other micro greens, for garnish (optional)
PREHEAT oven to 500 degrees.
WRAP beets tightly in aluminum foil and place them on a rimmed baking sheet; roast until tender when pierced with a skewer through the foil, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. Unwrap; when they are just cool enough to handle, hold them under a stream of running water and rub off/discard the skins. Cut beets in half, then 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.
ARRANGE leeks in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet; broil until deeply charred all over, turning a few times as necessary. Cool slightly, then peel off/discard the outer charred skin and tops. (If you use medium or large leeks rather than baby or thin ones, cut them in half lengthwise and again into large chunks, if desired. No need to cut baby leeks.)
USE a rasp-style grater to 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 white pith from both oranges, then cut their flesh into thick rounds or chunks, discarding seeds if necessary.
ADD 3/4 cup of the walnuts, all of 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 the walnut cream at the center of each plate. Arrange leeks, beets and oranges on and around it. Add dollops of cream here and there, if desired. Scatter remaining 1/4 cup of walnuts over the portions. If desired, scatter with sunflower sprouts or other micro greens. Sprinkle beets and leeks lightly with sea salt, and serve.
NOTE: Toast 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.
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
Yield: 4 servings.