Back when I lived in Philadelphia, my aunt learned that I liked Susanna Foo’s restaurant and gave me two of her cookbooks for Christmas. More than two years later, I still had not attempted a recipe from the books—in my inexperienced, cautious state, attempting to replicate the offerings of a high-end Chinese restaurant simply seemed like too intimidating a challenge. Finally this past spring, after building confidence by allowing the America’s Test Kitchen’s chefs to hold my hand through the preparation of a series of three-course meals, I felt ready to attempt a Susanna Foo dinner.
After reading Susanna’s glowing feature on raw fresh water chestnuts, I decided to tackle this salad first. Indeed, the water chestnuts made the dish—they really are something special. If you’ve never tried them, go to a Chinese grocery store and look for small, hard brown fruits covered in dirt. Avoid any that have soft spots, as it means that they are bruised and going bad. Wash them and then peel with a paring knife. They can be stored, peeled, in a bowl of water in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.
The “honeyed” walnuts in this recipe are disproportionately labor intensive. They have a light, crispy texture and unique flavor, and they definitely add to the total package, but you could make a respectable salad with plain old toasted walnuts and save yourself a lot of time.
Recipe by Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine
- 1 pound shelled walnut halves
- 1 ½ cup sugar
- About 1 ½ cups water
- 2 tablespoons corn oil (vegetable oil works fine)
- Wash the walnuts in lots of running water. Soak them for 10 to 15 minutes in water to cover; drain well.
Bring the sugar and 1 ½ cups water to boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the walnuts, reduce the heat to low and stir well with a wooden spoon. Simmer the nuts in the syrup for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until they are well-coated with the syrup. Add ¼ cup hot water if the syrup becomes too sticky. Turn off the heat and let the nuts cool in the syrup for another 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Strain off the excess syrup and toss the nuts with the oil. Spread the nuts on a large nonstick baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until they are crisp and dry. If they are not yet crisp, bake them a little longer.
The nuts can be stored in a tightly closed container at room temperature for 1 to 2 days or frozen in a sealed plastic bag for up to 3 months.
Water Chestnut, Arugula, and Endive Salad
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon peeled, minced gingerroot
- 1 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound fresh water chestnuts, peeled and washed
- 2 Belgian endives
- ¼ pound tender baby arugula, stems removed, washed and dried
- ½ cup “Honeyed” Walnuts (optional; the above recipe will make much more than this)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chervil leaves, for garnish (optional)
Cut each water chestnut into thin slices and set aside in a bowl of cold water until needed, to keep them from turning brown.
Cut off the stem end of the Belgian endives. Remove the large outer leaves (you will need 12 of them). Cut each leaf in half lengthwise and place in a large bowl filled with ice water to crisp the leaves. Julienne the remaining smaller inner leaves and immerse them in another bowl of ice water.
Just before serving, drain and dry the water chestnuts and the julienned endive. Place them in a bowl, add the vinaigrette, and mix well.
Place 4 of the halved endive leaves around the perimeter of each of 6 salad plates. Mound some arugula in the center of each plate. Spoon the water chestnut mixture over the top and garnish with the walnuts, if using. Decorate with the chervil leaves, if using.
Yield: 6 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 45 minutes