Since we first met in 2005, Aaron Peterson and I have enjoyed cooking, entertaining and sharing recipes together. Inspired and edified by family history, cookbook collections and our travels (and the meals we've eaten on them), our blog, GourmetGents, launched in October 2011 as an extension of our love for all things epicurean. Through semi-weekly updates, we feature family recipes, unfamiliar ingredients, baking experiments, cooking tips and lots of food photography, all with the occasional snarky aside. To check out more recipes, visit gourmetgents.blogspot.com.
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.
Aaron Peterson and James Pereria
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, and 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.
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.
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.
Kale and citrus salad with lemon agave vinaigrette
1 ruby red grapefruit
1head tuscan kale
For the lemon agave vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon raw agave syrup
4 tablespoons 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.
Repeat the same skinning process on the oranges, but rather than laboriously sectioning each tiny segment, slice them crosswise into ruby wheels. 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. 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.
In a small bowl, whip together the agave syrup and Dijon mustard, then whisk in the lemon juice and olive oil, seasoning to taste. Toss the kale with the dressing and portion onto plates, topping with sliced fruit. Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a meal.