Recipe: Leeks and Pears With Candied Walnuts and Sherry Vinaigrette

Photo by Even Sung, courtesy of Harper Collins

This elegant recipe from Hudson Valley-based Chef Dan Kluger is a delightful starter or side dish during the spring and summer months.

Makes 4–6 servings

This salad is like a cross between a classic French side, leeks vinaigrette, and an American salad made with pears and walnuts. You can serve it as an elegant side, or a pretty starter for a dinner party. I first made it at a Long Island summer house after picking up some leeks from a farm stand, which I blanched in some pasta water and threw on the grill until they were deeply charred and infused with a smoky flavor. I love the contrast between the tender leeks, creamy yogurt, and crunchy pears and walnuts.

Leeks and Pears with Candied Walnuts, Yogurt, and Sherry Vinaigrette
Photo by Even Sung, courtesy of Harper Collins

Candied Walnuts

Makes 2 cups
  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 2 tbsp water
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Scatter the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop.

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In a medium saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add the walnuts and cook, stirring constantly, until the water evaporates, and the sugar crystallizes around the walnuts, about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and spread the walnuts on a baking sheet to cool. Store the walnuts in an airtight container for a few days, or until they begin to lose their crunch.

Sherry Vinaigrette

Makes 1/2 cup

  • 2 tbsp finely chopped shallot
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp organic sugar
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, mustard, and sugar until combined. Slowly whisk in the oil until emulsified. Season with salt and let sit 30 minutes to lightly pickle the shallots. The dressing can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated until ready to use.

For Serving

  • 1 firm ripe pear (8 oz.), such as Bartlett or Bosc, quartered, cored, and very thinly sliced (use a mandoline if you have one)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 4 leeks, each about ¾ to 1 inch in diameter, white and light green parts only, roots trimmed
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • Sherry vinaigrette
  • ½ small celery stalk, thinly sliced on a bias (about ¼ cup), plus ¼ cup roughly chopped celery leaves
  • 1 tbsp finely diced jalapeño chile (with seeds)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup candied walnuts
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp chopped tarragon leaves
  • Flaky sea salt

In a bowl, toss the pear with the lemon juice.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the leeks and blanch until just tender, 3–5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then cut in half lengthwise.

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Heat a large skillet (preferably cast-iron) over high heat. Working in batches, add the leeks, cut side down, and cook until charred on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn the leeks over and continue cooking until charred all over, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, let cool slightly, then peel the outer charred layer from the leeks and discard.

Spread a thin layer of yogurt on the bottom of four to six shallow bowls. Arrange the leeks on top. Drizzle with the sherry vinaigrette and top with the sliced celery, jalapeño, and pear slices. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with the celery leaves, walnuts, parsley, tarragon, and flaky salt. Serve.

CHEF’S TIP-The technique for making candied walnuts almost seems like magic. As you cook them with sugar and a splash of water, a crystalline coating will start to cover the nuts. I picked up this trick not from a chef or cookbook, but from the vendors who make candied nuts on the streets of Manhattan. You can apply this technique to almost any kind of nut; just make sure you keep stirring and stirring until the nuts are covered with their sugary coating. In addition to topping salads, you can sprinkle the candied nuts on ice cream or serve them as part of a cheese board.

From the book CHASING FLAVOR, Techniques and Recipes to Cook Fearlessly by Dan Kluger. Copyright © 2020 by Daniel Kluger. Copyright photographs © 2020 by Evan Sung. Reprinted by permission of Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Related: This Leek Tart Recipe Celebrates the Bounty of the Hudson Valley

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