Frisée Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette


This simple and satisfying salad is the perfect dish for the end of summer. It's my version of the French salade Lyonnaise. The traditional recipe calls for home-made croutons, but I prefer walnuts. They give the salad a creamy component, add healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and keep it free of refined carbohydrates.

Frisée is an endive in disguise. Its leaves look lacy and delicate but it's really a sturdy, bitter green vegetable. It works well in this salad because the warm bacon vinaigrette softens the leaves and balances any bitterness. Like other bitter greens, frisée is good for digestion and full of fiber. It's also high in vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, beta-carotene,  folate, iron and potassium. If you don't have frisée, substitute escarole, dandelion leaves, beet greens, or any other bitter green leafy vegetable.

This salad is a good example of how meat can be used as a condiment, rather than the main course, in a plant-based diet. Use only bacon from pigs raised on pasture and never exposed to antibiotics or pesticides, because these chemicals can accumulate in animal fat. Find pasture-raised bacon at your local farmer's market or order it online. It's more expensive than conventional bacon, but a little goes a long way.

If you're planning ahead, the eggs can be cooked in advance. I recommend cooking them lightly, until the whites are done but the yolks are still runny. When you eat the salad, runny yolks become a second sauce. They leak out and coat everything with a creamy richness.

The eggs can be served warm or at room temperature. If you poach them in advance and want to serve them warm, re-heat them briefly in gently simmering water just before serving. Alternatively, you can sauté or boil the eggs.

If you don't eat eggs, top this salad with some cooked white beans or crumbled blue cheese instead.

2 slices pasture-raised bacon
1 to 2 cloves garlic
Sea salt
3 to 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon or home-made mustard
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
Fresh ground peppercorn
6 to 8 cups frisée or curly endive
Heaping 1/2 cup raw walnuts

Thinly slice the bacon and add it to a small skillet over low heat (I recommend enameled cast iron cookware). Cook it slowly, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the bacon bits are crisp. Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to lift out the bacon bits, draining any excess fat back into the skillet, and transfer them to your largest salad bowl.

Replace the skillet on the hot burner with the heat off. There should be a tablespoon or two of rendered fat in the skillet. Grate the garlic into the rendered fat, stir it in, and set it aside to allow the flavor of the garlic to infuse into the oil.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs in plenty of water:

Fill a large, shallow pan with 2 or 3 inches of water and bring it to a slow simmer. Once small bubbles start to rise to the surface, add a pinch of sea salt and crack an egg into a cup. Hold the cup as close to the surface of the water as possible and gently slide the egg into the water. Repeat with the other eggs.

(Some people add vinegar to the water to prevent the egg whites from spreading too far and too thin but I find it doesn't make a difference.)

Once the whites start to set, slide a slotted spoon underneath them to make sure they don't stick to the pan. Cook the eggs until the whites solidify and turn white, 3 or 4 minutes if you like your yolks runny, 6 or more if you like them cooked through. Use the slotted spoon to gently lift them out to check their doneness and, once they're perfectly cooked, transfer them to a clean kitchen towel to drain. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on each one if desired.

In the skillet with the rendered fat and garlic, whisk in 3 to 4 teaspoons of red wine vinegar and scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the Dijon, olive oil and ground peppercorn. Continue whisking until everything is well-combined. Taste for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments. 

Add the walnuts to the bowl containing the bacon bits. Fill it up with frisée leaves chopped into bite-size pieces. Pour the warm vinaigrette over the greens and toss until it is evenly distributed. If you are short on vinaigrette, drizzle in a little extra olive oil to help distribute it evenly.

Divide the salad among 4 small plates or 2 large plates and top each portion with 1 or 2 eggs.

Makes 2 main courses or 4 appetizer portions.