Monday, February 8, 2010

Simple Salads: Cucumber, Avocado, Fennel Salad

Embrace the chiffonade of basil, hail the geometric jicama cube, enjoy the julienne of carrot, cherish those zucchini shavings – all the ways we cut and prepare vegetables can be so….edible! Salads, as commonly referred by most eaters of the Standard American Diet (SAD), are boring. Tasteless. Hippie food. All vegetarians ever eat, right? Excuse me while I throw my slimy avocado peels into your bag of Doritos, but no. While vegetarians eat more than salads, this underestimated dish is not to be ignored! Oh the possibilities when you have too many ripe vegetables and an entrée in mind that doesn’t require them. Why not a side salad? Sure, they’re not the main act, but sometimes they offer a good intermission from your meal without requiring you to stop participating.

So maybe I went to the Farmers Market and maybe I blew $40 on vegetables alone. This is not uncommon for me; I just have to be very diligent about consuming everything. I can’t throw out produce and I am not in a position to compost just yet. When I arrived home and started planning out my lunch, I had a main course salad in mind that ended up being more of a macrobiotic plate of steamed greens, sweet potatoes, squash, purple cauliflower, snow peas, and black beans.

But I had so many fresh, glowing, washed and ready-to-slice veggies that I couldn’t bypass just because my main dish struck a different note. I had already pulled out the cucumber and fennel. Then the avocado that I sliced open last night begged me to scoop it out already before falling victim to a new shade of brown.

The texture of paper thin vegetables is highly appealing to me, so I generally love slicing vegetables that way, particularly fennel and cucumber. To me they have a much more radiant flavor when finely sliced rather than left to their laboriously thick layers, as in the case with fennel. But I also love salsas consisting of fresh chunky cubes of jicama, watermelon, mango, tomatoes, etc... Slices and cubes don’t always mesh well in one dish; conflicting geometry can be highly mysterious and challenging to a fork. But the glorious, buttery avocado has more influence in this salad as a cube with its forgiving texture than as a slice that might mush too much amongst other sturdier sliced veggies. It pairs beautifully with slices without perplexing your utensils.

I did not make a vinaigrette with the first batch of salad. On the second attempt, I added a touch of lemon juice that did not add much to the dish. If this doesn’t have enough kick for you, an orange juice vinaigrette may take it to a new level.

Cucumber, Avocado and Fennel Salad
Serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total cook time: 15 minutes.


1 ripe avocado*, cubed
1 small cucumber, finely sliced
1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced
8-10 large basil leaves
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste


Combine the avocado, cucumber and fennel in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Lay each of the basil leaves flat on top of each other. Starting from the pointed end, roll the pile into a little cigar shaped roll. With a sharp knife, slice the basil very, very thinly starting from the right end, making your way left, a chiffonade. Sprinkle the basil “sprigs” over the vegetables.

Let salad sit and marinate in its own juices for at least 15 minutes.

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