Summer Recipes Part III: Building a Great Salad

My rendition of Michael’s Butter lettuce salad with orange, hazelnuts, avocado and shallot-hazelnut vinaigrette

If you’ve eaten at MGFD over the past few weeks, you’ve probably observed the greening of the food bar wall where tomatoes usually hold court.  Florida avocado season is here and these succulent beauties are showing up all over the menu and in verbal specials.  That’s also your cue at home to make a great salad, one of the best and easiest ways to showcase this local ingredient in season.

Michael’s Genuine Food has a wide selection of salads with a variety of ingredients, flavors, and textures, and most importantly, the pages are laced with basic tools and tips to make them properly.  In the spirit of our new series, Summer Recipes, we’re offering a list Michael follows when building a great salad.  And with avocados in mind, Butter Lettuce salad with orange, hazelnuts, avocado, and shallot-hazelnut vinaigrette will do the trick!

Tomato wall is green at MGFD, photo by Jackie Sayet

1. Lettuce basics: Step away from the pre-cut salad mixes, because the first step to building a great salad is understanding that short cuts like this usually lead to a dull, boring result. Instead, opt for showcasing fresh, seasonal flavors — of the kind that cannot be found in baggies of expensive wilted greens. There are a ton of lettuce types out there, and experimenting with different varieties is an excellent way to find out which varieties you like best. Michael isn’t a huge fan of hydroponic lettuce, because it too can get pricey, so it’s best to visit a local farmer’s market or quality grocer for a fresh, perky head of lettuce. And remember, even though lettuce mixes can be convenient, they might also be washed in chemicals and harbor bacteria.

2. Toast your nuts: Untoasted nuts are not as fragrant, or crunchy, as toasted nuts. It’s a simple step, too. Just preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the nuts are fragrant (about 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the nut). Keep a watchful eye though, because burnt nuts develop a bitter flavor.

3. Segmenting citrus: Citrus adds a burst of brightness to salad. To segment orange, lime, lemon or grapefruit, start by trimming the top and bottom of the fruit so it stands still on a cutting board (cut deep enough so you can see the actual flesh of the fruit). Then, using a paring knife, cut off the skin and bitter white pith. Hold the fruit above a bowl and carefully cut along the membrane on each side to free the pieces. Let the juice and segments fall into the bowl. And don’t throw out that juice! Use that fresh-squeezed flavor as one of the components of a vinaigrette.

4. Don’t drown your salad: Dressings are an integral components of a great salad, but you shouldn’t overdo it. Only use enough dressing to lightly coat the lettuce leaves.

5. Play with textures and flavors: The best salads have a variety of textures: creamy, crunchy, crispy, or buttery. The same goes for flavors: sweet, savory, bitter, or acid. A great salad is stimulating and plays with all these different components. A quick skim through Michael’s cookbook reveals how he adds avocado, crumbled up ricotta or feta for a creamy effect. Or how citrus adds acidity. Nuts — like hazelnuts or macadamia nuts — add a nice crunch.

Butter lettuce salad with orange, hazelnuts, avocado and shallot-hazelnut vinaigrette

Serves 6


For the salad:

2 heads butter lettuce, wilted outer leaves discarded

2 navel oranges, segmented

3 cups 1/2-inch diced ripe avocado

About 3 tablespoons shallot hazelnut dressing (recipe follows)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted and crushed

Remove the core from the lettuce, and break apart, tearing the leaves into smaller pieces by hand. Wash thoroughly and spin dry. Put the lettuce leaves in a large salad bowl. Add the orange segments and avocado, and spoon in enough dressing to lightly coat the lettuce. Gently toss and season with salt and pepper. Divide among 6 chilled salad bowls, evenly distributing the oranges and avocados. Top with hazelnuts and serve.

Shallot-hazelnut vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup

1 small shallot, minced

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup hazelnut oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a mixing bowl combine shallot, orange juice, vinegar, olive and hazelnut oils. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk thoroughly to combine. Keep any leftover vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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