Thursday, January 31, 2013

Intentional Grapefruit Salad

In this pregnancy it sure didn't take long for cravings to become a regular event. Back in December, when I was nauseous ninety-five percent of the time, those cravings were oddly intertwined with utter revulsion. Aside from random taco/sushi/potato episodes, all I really ate were mandarins. They were the only thing that always, always sounded good.

Now that I'm feeling somewhat human again, nausea has settled down, and the cravings have expanded. My food needs now dance around cucumbers, kale, salsa, and anything citrus. I've been juicing up a mix of delectables in the morning (carrot-orange-kale-lemon-ginger), sneaking chips and salsa when Cedar isn't looking, and sharing the precious mango oranges (incredible) in the afternoons. I have swallowed my locavore pride and bought cucumbers from Mexico multiple times in the last few weeks, justifying my actions with the lame excuse that they are 'taking the place' of the imported coffee I used to drink. I've also made a certain lemon cake (twice) that I'll tell you about soon, there is a citrus-marinated duck I have yet to make but can't stop fantasizing about, and then there is the grapefruit salad.

I made this salad recently for the first time. I can't think of why it took me so long to do this; it sounded good for years. It had grapefruit and avocado, butter lettuce and olive oil, a sprinkle-sprinkle of salt and a grinding of black pepper. I don't usually eat this kind of light fare for lunch. I used to just throw my lunches together: lentils, leftover kale, leftover meat, a grated carrot, some green onion, a bit of seeds, a splash or three of vinegar, and a dollop of mayonnaise, and I'd call it a delicious, filling lunch. But my usual bowl of mish-mash-leftover-remade-as-salad-with-a-glop-of-mayonnaise just doesn't fit the bill anymore. It throws my pregnant stomach way off-kilter. Is it the textures? the mayonnaise? the confusion of flavors? the heaviness? Not quite sure. My hunch though, is that it's a combination of them all. Now I can hardly think about, let alone make and enjoy, such a jumble.

It's like this baby is picky or something. Intentional, let's say. S/he likes intentional food that is meant to be, food that is planned and maybe even employs a bit of reserve. Not my strength, but with the grapefruit salad, it does seem I'm learning.  


Since I made the first salad, I've been adding and taking away ingredients, and adding and taking away some more, little by little. And, oh yes, this means I've had this grapefruit salad quite a lot lately. It is my new delightful rut. And it has yet to make me cringe. I've made the salad with oro blancos, ruby reds, and this pretty pink (overly delicate) one they just labeled 'grapefruit'. They each had their own charm. I've made it with only avocado and grapefruit--no lettuce. I've made it with nuts and herbs and with none at all. They were all good, but my favorite is this tricked-out version, complete with a smattering of herbs and nuts.

It is a sort of compromise between my inclination for food chaos and this child's penchant for culinary order. Crisp of lettuce, zing of grapefruit, crunch and perfume of pistachio, brightness of parsley, and smoothover of avocado, all bound with a little citrus dressing--not too abrasive, not too busy, and it has that nod to the creaminess I crave without giving in to the white stuff. It fills the void without thudding like my old lunches do now. It kind of sings through the system. And if you make it with the pink or red grapefruit, it sings at your eyes too. Hope you enjoy!

Grapefruit Salad with Avocado and Pistachios

As I mentioned above, this recipe calls for parsley, but cilantro (with toasted pepitas) would also be good. Take your pick. And play around with the citrus juice in the dressing too! I have used lemon and grapefruit juices thus far, but when I try the cilantro version, a lime will be what I'll grab.  

And one more thing. For this salad, I left the sections whole and the avocado in wedges. If this is too fussy for you (I will not do this again unless serving guests), feel free to just cube the fruits up into similar-sized pieces.

1 grapefruit, sectioned*
1 avocados, ripe but not too ripe
1 small head butter lettuce or other well-loved lettuce (I used Castle de Franco Radicchio this time)

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil, the best you can buy
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar, or to taste (note the sweetness of the citrus juice to be employed)
ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
3 very young green onions or equivalent chives, sliced, about a teaspoon

1/4 cup chopped pistachios
herb blossoms, for garnish (I used rosemary, but chives would be ideal)

First off, make the dressing. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, sugar, and onion in a small bowl, whisk well and set aside to mingle.

While it mingles, prepare the lettuce: wash, dry (well), and tear it into manageable-sized pieces. Next, section the grapefruit over a bowl, collecting any juice that releases and setting the sections aside.

Taste the dressing. It should be balanced. If not, adjust accordingly: salt if not savory enough, sugar if too sour, oil if too punchy, and pepper if you need a little more kick. When the dressing is right and you are ready to serve the salad, cut the avocado longitudinally in half, take out the seed, slice lengthwise into wedges, and scoop out with a spoon. Slip the pieces into the dressing as you scoop to keep them from browning. Toss very gently and set aside.

In a bowl, mix the lettuce with some drained off dressing, just enough to coat. Do this with your (clean) hands. It works better. There will probably be extra, save it.

Plate the dressed lettuce and scatter the grapefruit and avocado over it. Drizzle over a little extra dressing if you wish, then sprinkle on pistachios. Top with herb blossoms, if you have them, and serve immediately. As I have said, I have this for lunch, but it is on my list to eat alongside grilled fish, roast chicken, pork chops, or a delightful treat of duck confit, when I make it. Any way you have it, enjoy!

serves 2-4

*I use the slow-but-beautiful method of peeling each section of grapefruit by hand. I am convinced it is more effective and wastes less. To do this, remove peel as you would an orange. At each section make a slit where they join and peel the membrane back, then use a knife to coax the whole piece away from the other side of the membrane. There should be a satisfying pull and pop as the little juice pockets separate themselves from that last side. Delightful. Repeat until all the grapefruit is done. I like to alternate sides to keep from the trouble getting to the end of a half and meeting up with a pulverized grapefruit section.

Alternatively, try this more conventional method: cut away the outer pith and membrane, being sure to completely expose the flesh. I start with the north and south poles to give a nice stability to the fruit as I carve. With a knife, section by section, cut away the membrane from the grapefruit, as you would with a grapefruit half, perhaps. The little juice pods cling to the membrane and these little connections are what you are cutting. Repeat until finished.  

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