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A 'Why Didn't I Think of That?' Trick for Better Salads

Food52 logo Food52 3/20/2019 Emma Laperruque
a plate of food on a table © Provided by Food52

We all know how to make a salad, right? Start with some leaves, add a few bonuses (chopped vegetables, roasted nuts, crispy croutons, you name it), drizzle with dressing, toss. That’s the everyday way.

And then there’s the Estela way.

Estela is a restaurant in New York City by Chef Ignacio Mattos. In 2013, the year it opened, The New York Times gave it two stars. Currently, it holds a spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Which is to say, if you go to Estela, you’re going to get good food.

Think: spiced almonds and Iberico ham. Burrata with salsa verde and charred bread. Lamb ribs with charmoula and honey. Oh, and the most Why didn’t I think of that? salad you’ve ever had in your life.

Modern Bread Box with Reversible Lid © Provided by Food52 Modern Bread Box with Reversible Lid Modern Bread Box with Reversible Lid a close up of a bowl: Handcrafted Wood Salad Bowls (Set of 4) © Provided by Food52 Handcrafted Wood Salad Bowls (Set of 4) Handcrafted Wood Salad Bowls (Set of 4)

For what it’s worth, it doesn’t look like a salad. It looks like a pile of endive leaves—maybe even a pile you recognize, considering that the dish is also the cover of Estela’s recently released, namesake cookbook.

“People associate us with this salad,” Chef Mattos told me.

After one or two bites, it’s easy to see why: If you dig your fork beneath the leaves, you’ll find all sorts of crunchy, cheesy clusters. Mattos calls it “granola,” but where you’d expect oats, there are actually sourdough croutons, toasted walnuts, and Ubriaco Rosso (an Italian cow’s milk cheese with a purplish rind), all dressed with a peppery anchovy vinaigrette.

It sounds good and tastes even better, which makes it all the more curious that Estela hides the granola at the bottom of the bowl. But to Mattos, that’s all part of the fun.

“It creates a surprise element and makes a statement by keeping the food simple yet bold,” he said. “The salad eats better when its plated this way—each bite is different.”

In the cookbook’s recipe headnote, he encourages readers:

The way to start is by eating a few of the top leaves, little endive cups holding orange juice and oil, and then begin filling the rest of them with the absurdly delicious crouton-and-cheese mixture hidden below, sort of like making your own taco.

And with respect to those hard-to-find ingredients? Mattos encourages substitutions, too. The Ubriaco Ross, he told me, can be replaced with blue cheese. The garnacha vinegar can make way for a red wine counterpart. And even the iconic endive can be swapped out for “radicchio or chicory,” he said, “anything that is fresh and alive to balance the granola's richness.”

In other words? This dish is about as famous as a restaurant salad can get. But it’s also a template for salad assembly at home. Instead of tossing your mix-ins with the leaves, hide them beneath like buried treasure, and be sure to dress each component separately—either with the same vinaigrette, or take a cue from Mattos and mix and match.

Below is the recipe for Estela’s version. But I can’t wait to hear what upside-down salad you come up with on your own.

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Estela's Endive Salad With Walnuts & Ubriaco Rosso

By Food52

  • Vinaigrette
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 large anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons garnacha vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Granola
  • 1 1/2 cups (50 g) ½-inch cubes of day-old sourdough (you want a few pieces with some dark crust)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup (100 g) walnuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Chile flakes
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) irregular pieces (¼- to ½-inch) Ubriaco Rosso
  • 1/3 cup (about 35 g) irregular pieces (¼- to ½-inch) Pecorino Duro
  • Endives
  • 4 endives
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium orange
  • 1 tablespoon chardonnay vinegar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

View Full Recipe


What’s your favorite way to make salads? Spill in the comments!


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