Winter's Bounty: Watercress, Avocado, and Blood Orange Salad with Cyprus Sea Salt

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

As the drudgery of winter's cold embrace begins to leave us, and spring ushers in her colorful bounty in forms of food and floral, we can take advantage of these wintery delights once more before their peek leaves us. I  made this salad for The Hubsters and I back in February for our at-home Valentine's Day dinner. It was so amazingly good, I made it two more times that week.

This salad is a perfect example of how food doesn't have to be complicated or overly garnished or even cooked! A lot of home cooking (and restaurants have thankfully boarded the Fresh Train) can be as simple as selection of raw ingredients at their prime, a restrained hand in seasoning, and service in a timely manner. This is how our ancestors ate, and as you know I often draw inspiration from history in composing new dishes or reinterpreting old ones. For our dinner, I wanted to serve a salad course and instantly the recipes for salad the Romans used to serve jumped into my head. Tender leaf lettuces, freshs herbs, even flowers were layed out nicely onto platters and topped with sliced fruits in season, anywhere from citrus to apples and even dried fruits. These were very simply seasoned with a sprinling of anchovy seasoning (their salt at the time) and a drizzle of excellent olive oil. These salads were the most popular lunch items of the ancient time, and the integrity with which they treated the ingredients is hard to resist. So, applying the ancient logic to what I had available in season now, this salad was composed. Wonderfully peppery and spicy watercress leaves are laid out onto individual plates, then topped with segments of tart and fragrant blood orange, paired perfectly with creamy avocado slices. The garnish: lots of coursely ground black pepper, a restrained drizzle of good quality imported extra virgin olive oil (mine's from Sicily!) and as a nod to my ancestors for inspiring this dish -- some gorgeous and delicious black, flaky sea salt from Cyprus.

This recipe is beautiful -- the colors vibrant and truly a feast for all the senses. Added health factor makes this a perfect salad I know you'll make again and again. Enjoy the rest of these wintery weeks!

Watercress, Avocado, and Blood Orange Salad with Cyprus Sea Salt
1 large bunch watercress
1 perfectly ripe avocado
1 blood orange, segmented*
freshly ground black pepper (preferably set to course ground)
good quality extra virgin olive oil
cyprus sea salt (or any good quality course sea salt)

Take the watercress and cut off the stems and roots (watercress if often sold with the roots still attached to preserve the freshness). Rinse very gently and pat dry with paper towels. Lay out onto one larger platter or distribute onto individual plates. Carefully peel the avocado, remove the pit and slice into 1/4" thick slices. Lay out decoratively onto plates/platter. Distribute the orange segments as well. Season with a generous amount of black pepper, then drizzle lightly with olive oil and top with a sprinkling of the sea salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Using avocados and delicate watercress makes this a dish you need to put together right before serving. You can segment your orange ahead of time and keep the segments in an air-tight container, refrigerated. But put together the salad before serving so the avocado doesn't oxidize (turn brown) and the watercress doesn't get limp and wilted.

*To segment an organge, carefully cut the rind (the outer orange skin) and pith (the white part between the orange part and the flesh -- the actual orange you eat). You'll have a sort of "naked orange ball." Take the ball into your hand and hold it like a baseball facing you. Then using a sharp knife, cut into the orange, in between the membranes (they'll look like thin white lines drawn), and separate the orange slices.

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