Wednesday, June 10, 2015

It’s the Season of Salads
What’s cooking? Caribbean Fruit Salad with Cilantro-Citrus Dressing

Summertime is here, and the Kitchen Goddess has flown north. The view from my desk in Jersey City is decidedly urban – a far cry from the view in Austin. And as I sat here putting words on a screen, a Carnival Cruise ship floated past the window. Which seemed like a great segue into the Caribbean salad I have for you today.

The trip north wasn’t exactly a flight – it was a 27-hour drive. And my hubby was slaving away at a golf course in South Carolina, so I was on my own with the car. Two things saved me: NPR and friends in Nashville.

As an NPR geek, I had stored up an enormous number of podcasts on my phone, and it turns out that if you hit the right button on today’s in-car stereo systems, you can plug your phone in and listen to all those podcasts while you drive. So I entertained myself with hours of Science Friday, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, The TED Radio Hour, This American Life, and The Splendid Table. It was such fun I can hardly wait for the return trip.

I also took a break in Nashville – the halfway point in my journey and home to three of my college friends. It occurred to me that I could reward myself (and give my fanny a rest) after a day of driving with dinner at a place I’ve read wonderful things about. So I petitioned those Music City friends, and they humored me by sharing an evening at The Catbird Seat.

Friends, if you are ever in or even near Nashville and feel like treating yourself, you must try The Catbird Seat. This tiny restaurant near the downtown area hosts about 20 customers at a time – two seatings per evening – in a format that truly lives up to its name, which Webster defines as “a position of great prominence or advantage.” The serving area resembles a large picture frame, with guests seated around the outside, while 6-7 chefs in the center prepare the most amazing food right in front of you. So there is no bad seat, you get to chat with the cute chefs, and the fourteen courses are mostly small, but each a delectable gem. A feast for the eyes and the palate. Needless to say, the Kitchen Goddess was in her element. And in the relaxed atmosphere that is becoming quintessentially Nashville, much of the food is eaten with your fingers. I cannot remember having more pure fun at a restaurant.

* * *

One of the best aspects of summer weather is the prominent role salads take on in meals. Before leaving Texas, the KG and her hubby participated in a gourmet dinner with a Caribbean theme, and our assignment was the salad course. In putting this one together, I learned that “salad greens” in the Caribbean tends to mean heartier fare than lettuce. Think arugula, raw spinach, or watercress, instead of Bibb, Boston, or butter lettuce.

For the dinner party, I fried plantain chips and gave each person dipping sauce. But the plantain chips were a lot of trouble and didn't stay crisp, so I won't be doing that again. The salad, on the other hand, was terrific.

Kitchen Goddess note: It’s not really Caribbean to roast the pineapple, but I loved the extra dimension this gave the flavor, to say nothing of the added beauty. Roasting is soooo easy, and takes a bit of that pucker away from the pineapple. I tossed only the avocado and hearts of palm with the vinaigrette because the pineapple was so pretty I just wanted to sprinkle it plain over the rest of the salad. The leftover vinaigrette will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks, and is wonderful on any salad.

Caribbean Salad with Cilantro-Citrus Vinaigrette

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, January 1995

Serves 8.

For the vinaigrette:
heaping ½ cup cilantro, large stems removed
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
3 large avocados, peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice
1 can/jar (about 14 ounces) hearts of palm, sliced in ½-inch pieces
3 cups fresh pineapple, cut in wedges
2 bunches watercress or arugula, thick stems removed
optional: thin-sliced red onion
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To make the vinaigrette:
Load all ingredients but the olive oil into a food processor, and process until chunky. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and pulse for a few seconds more season with additional salt to taste. Remove to a jar and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make the salad:
If you’re not buying cored pineapple, check out this video: How to Core a Pineapple
Once you have the outer skin and eyes removed, and have cut out the fibrous core, start with slices 1 inch thick, and cut the pieces into segments that are about ¾-inch around and 1 inch deep.

Set the oven to broil. Place the pineapple pieces in a bowl and toss with a teaspoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Line a sheet pan with baker’s parchment and spread the pineapple out on the paper. Broil about 4 inches from the heat for about 5 minutes, or until you start to see browning marks. Use tongs or a fork to turn the pineapple pieces over and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes more, or until the other sides begin to brown. Remove pineapple pieces to a bowl and set aside.

Toss the avocado and hearts of palm with ½ cup dressing. Arrange the greens on plates and spoon avocado and hearts of palm on top. Sprinkle roasted pineapple around the top. Garnish with red onion, if desired. Season to taste and serve with extra dressing.

Wine Note: We served our salad with a 2014 ARA Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ. Like the citrus in the dressing, the citrus notes in the wine were a good balance with the creamy avocado and the sweetness of the pineapple.

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