Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kaleidoscopic Colors (Kale and Citrus Salad)

Much like every March, I've come to harbor the deeply-held belief that this winter has overstayed its welcome. There's something about snowflakes greeting the first day of spring that puts me on the definite outs with Mother Nature. With citrus very much in season, however, I figured I could achieve a dash of lighter and brighter flavors via the sweet simplicity of salad. The tangy, floral zing of ruby red grapefruit was something I arrived at the grocery planning upon, the garnet-red blood oranges were a delightful surprise.
I first encountered blood oranges on a high school trip to Italy. Arranged for our class through an educational touring agency, the evening meals featured a somewhat alarming uniformity of menu. Pasta and marinara were invariably paired with breaded cutlets of a meat none of my classmates could initially identify--was it beef? Was it chicken? We dubbed our mysterious recurring entree "fricken" until someone with the sense to ask was rewarded with the knowledge that it was veal. I soon came to regard the fruit basket as the highlight of dinner, but what a highlight it was. I vehemently maintain that, in addition to their vibrant color, no true blood orange will ever fail to prove sweeter and juicier than its more humbly hued cousins.

The redder, the better
Among other happy finds at the grocery this weekend were some voluptuously ripe, tender-firm Haas avocados (one of my perennial favorites) and a clutch of gently blushing prickly pears. One of those dusty oddments of memory, I vaguely recall reading a grade-school story about a Mexican family harvesting prickly pears and making them to jelly that, as a testament to my long-suffering mother's forbearance, resulted in my brief obsession with the things. As fruiting cacti were rather rare in the 1980s suburbs of Seattle, this fascination was short-lived. Still, I was delighted to find them in our market here in Pennsylvania and their juicy, watermelon-fresh flavor and vibrant magenta color are an easy sell.

It may look a little alien right now, but sliced up it's beautiful
As an unusual accompaniment to my assorted fruits, I decided I wanted to try some kale. Known by many names: Tuscan, Lacinato, or dinosaur, kale is one of my favorite winter greens. While this salad could be delicious with no greens at all, or easily top mild spring mix or peppery arugula, kale is infinitely appropriate to our lingering winter and possesses a crisp texture and deep, dark, vegetal flavor that makes for a striking juxtaposition against the otherwise tropical melange. Finely shredded and laced with a lemon agave vinaigrette full of smoky sweetness and mustardy bite, it forms a perfect pairing to the succulent citrus, buttery avocado, and crunchy seeds of prickly pear.

Like jewels on crushed velvet
Kale and citrus salad with lemon agave vinaigrette

1 ruby red grapefruit
2 blood oranges
1 avocado
1 prickly pear
1 head Tuscan kale

For the lemon agave vinaigrette:
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbs raw agave syrup
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Slice the ends from the grapefruit, then run your knife along the sides, slicing ribbons of peel and pith away from the glistening segments within. Then slip the blade between the membranes to free each slice.

Like so
Repeat the same skinning process on the oranges, but rather than laboriously sectioning each tiny segment, slice them crosswise into gleaming ruby wheels.

Ready to roll
Slice the avocado by running your knife lengthwise around the core, twist to free the halves, and tap out the stone with the tip of your knife. Carefully score a cross-hatch pattern into the avocado, then scoop out perfect cubes with a spoon.

Inconvenient truth: the word "avocado" comes from a Nahuatl word for "testicle." Cannot be unseen.
To prepare the prickly pear, slice off the ends and then make a single, shallow incision from end to end. Slip the tips of your fingers under the skin and gentle pressure should allow you to peel it away in a single sheet. Quarter the prickly pear lengthwise and dice the quarters.

Chiffonade the kale by bundling the leaves and slicing crosswise to form thin ribbons. The thicker end of the stem can be tough and woody, so either stop well clear of it or make two quick slices in each leaf to remove the rib.

Raw agave syrup has a full, rich, smoky sweetness
In a small bowl, whip together the agave syrup and Dijon mustard, then whisk in the lemon juice and olive oil, seasoning to taste.

Dress to impress

Toss the kale with the dressing and portion onto plates, topping with sliced fruit. Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a meal.


Unknown said...

I would add a little rice to this salad for a complete meal!

James Pereira said...

Rice is definitely a good call, but I also can't recommend tempeh enough. I like it best sliced thin, tossed with tamari and dark sesame oil, and roasted, but for a fruity salad like this, agave and olive oil would probably be more appropriate.