Most of my vegetable recipes come from me walking around a produce section until my stomach says, “That looks good. We should eat that.” I’m driven by impulse, throwing things into my cart as my body dictates, and when I get home I do my best to make sense of what I purchased in my fugue state. On a recent trip to H Mart I came across some beautiful endive, why my body told me it wanted to eat with grapefruit. I know better than to argue with my body, because it has ways of making me suffer. (Earlier that day I had chosen not to eat candy for breakfast, and as punishment I got the Kars4Kids jingle stuck in my head for two hours.) Once I got into the kitchen, my brain finally caught up to what my stomach was thinking: What I had on my counter was a mystery equation, and I had to figure out how to put the components together in perfect balance.
Endive can be a tricky little bastard, because even though it’s just the right kind of bitter, that bitterness can be a bit much. The flavor softens quite nicely when grilled, but that takes it almost too far in the opposite direction. I want some of endive’s bitterness, just not all of it. So I removed the outermost leaves, split the endive in half, seared it cut-side down, and nestled it back into the raw leaves. One part of the equation down!
I knew my stomach/brain had insisted on grapefruit because endives really need sweetness and acidity to balance them out. Also, I love grapefruit. I started to supreme the grapefruit, but after a few pieces I remembered what a pain in the ass that is, and I had no desire to do that to a whole bag of grapefruit. Instead, I supremed only one, then cut the rinds off two more and cut into slices. Then, to amp up their natural sweetness, I seared those slices in the pan I used for the endive, which caramelized their sugars and caused the tasty bits to separate from the membranes, thus saving me from cutting them away by hand. I added a bit of honey, a big pinch of salt, and some Champagne vinegar, cooked everything for a minute or so until jammy, and put that between the cooked and raw endive. Second part of the equation: solved!
I put the endive and grapefruit together on a platter, gave it a taste, and decided that while the result was pretty solid, it still wasn’t perfectly balanced. One of the most enjoyable things about bitter vegetables like endive is that they beg for lots of acidity, and this salad still needed more. I didn’t even bother with a vinaigrette—I just sprinkled a bit more good vinegar over the top. To give the whole thing a bit of an aromatic flourish, I sprinkled on a bit of five spice powder. Equation: complete.
This all sounds like a big ol’ fancy to-do, doesn’t it? It certainly tastes like one, but in reality, this dish came together in about 15 minutes. Make this as a work-from-home lunch, then save the leftovers for dinner. This is one of those salads that manages to get even better when it sits around for a while, even if it starts to look like a bit of a mess. But seriously, who cares about a messy salad when it tastes so damn good?
Seared Endive & Grapefruit Salad
- 1 to 1½ lbs. small endive (don’t worry too much about exact quantities—it’s a salad!)
- 3 medium grapefruits
- 3 Tbsp. Champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar, or white balsamic vinegar, plus a bit extra for serving
- 1½ Tbsp. honey
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 2-4 Tbsp. neutral cooking oil, like grapeseed or canola
- 1 tsp. five spice powder
Use a sharp knife to cut the rinds off the grapefruit. Use a small paring knife to supreme one grapefruit into segments; put in a small bowl and set aside. Cut the remaining grapefruits horizontally into thick 1.5" slices, removing any seeds you come across.
Trim the bottoms off the endives, then remove their crispy outer leaves and put those on a platter. Split the endive centers in half. (If you have trouble handling the middle sections, jab them with a toothpick to hold their layers together.) Coat the bottom of a nonstick skillet with oil, then put over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the endive centers cut side down, sear for 1-2 minutes until they begin to blacken, then move to a plate. Add more oil if needed, then add the thick grapefruit slices and leave them undisturbed for at least 2 minutes. When the bottoms have caramelized, flip them over. As the grapefruit cooks it’ll begin to fall apart into mush, with the pulp separating from the membrane—use a wooden spoon to help this process along, smooshing the membrane to extract any juices, then pick it up with tongs and discard. Add the vinegar and honey to the skillet and cook until jammy (about 1-2 minutes), then remove from heat.
Spoon a bit of the cooked grapefruit into the raw endive leaves, then nestle in the seared endive centers. Add the supremed grapefruit segments to the platter, then season everything with salt, pepper, and five spice powder. Drizzle on another tablespoon or so of vinegar, or just bring the bottle to the table and add vinegar to taste. As always, with salad, the last step is tasting for yourself and tweaking the seasonings until the salad sparks joy.