One of my favorite meals as a kid - strange as it may sound (for a kid, that is) - was a big salad. Probably not unlike the "big salad" that Elaine was always known to be eating in Seinfeld. Starting with iceberg lettuce, we piled the salad bowl full of bell peppers, carrots and tomatoes, cubed cold ham and cheese, black olives and bacon bits... and of course, way too much creamy ranch dressing. I remember eating our salad for dinner on the wide porch of the house we briefly lived in before leaving South Carolina to move to Colorado. I loved when it rained while we were out on the porch, with the warm rain lightly misting our faces while we ate. I've always loved the rain.
Over dinner the other night at one of our favorite restaurants, Jamie and I ate raw oysters with horseradish and lemon and a tomato salad with red onion slivers, blue cheese crumbles and a light vinaigrette. It's been so long since I've eaten bottled salad dressing that I hardly miss it anymore, although occasionally I have a craving for creamy and tangy blue cheese dressing.
For the first 20 years of my life, I thought those chopped salads of my childhood were the only kind of salads there were. But then while living in China, I tasted their version of a salad - cubes of cold cucumber and raw onion, tossed with crunchy peanuts and maybe a little shredded cabbage, piled high on a plate and drizzled with vinegar, then finished with a sprinkling of salt and sugar. It was addictive, even with the raw onions. What a wonderful meal that was on hot and humid summer days.
The first time I tasted caprese salad was on a business trip to the beautiful city of Boston about 6-7 years ago. My boss took me to one of the nicest restaurants I'd ever been to up to that point in my life, and we ate expensive cuts of steak with overpriced drinks like white chocolate martinis. One bite of my salad of tomato, mozzarella and basil began a love affair with those flavors that's never going to let me go.
When I ordered my caprese salad in that Boston restaurant, I didn't know it would have a vinaigrette on it, and so used to specifying a choice of salad dressing when ordering salad, I asked for blue cheese dressing on the side. The server looked startled - as though I was committing some sort of food crime by combining blue cheese and mozzarella - but it was actually very good.
This stacked salad of avocados, oranges and basil is my winter/early spring version of a caprese salad. Since tomatoes are not at their best until the summer, I've substituted oranges for the tomatoes and avocado for the mozzarella. I eat avocados almost every day as a snack at work, and for the past few weeks I've been loving them with sweet navel oranges or tangelos. With the fresh basil, a little oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper is all this salad needs. I think red grapefruit instead of the orange slices would be delicious, too!
So simple and so pretty.
Avocado, Orange and Basil Salad
- 2 avocados
- 3-4 navel oranges
- fresh basil
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- coarse salt and cracked pepper
Slice the avocados in half (around the width of the fruit instead of lengthwise) and remove the pit. Use a spoon to scoop them out of the skin and slice the fruit into thin circles.
Peel the oranges and slice into thin circles.
On four plates, alternate the avocado and orange slices with the basil leaves so that you have 3-4 layers stacked on each plate. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Yields 4 servings.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen