Festive salad for the season

One good thing about coming from a family without a lot of immutable holiday traditions is you get to make up your own. That’s how we came to eat tamales at my house on Christmas Eve even though none of our ancestors would have had the slightest idea what to do with masa or chiles.

Since I’ve never been initiated into the secrets of tamale making, we let Lucy’s Tamale Factory prepare ours. To go with them, I cook a pot of savory pinto beans with onions, straight out of “Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen” (Scribner, 1996), along with rice and a festive salad. This year I’m also thinking about trying my hand at corn tortillas, but that’s another post.

This salad is far from traditional but it draws on flavors I identify with Latino cuisine – citrus, avocados, red onions and toasted pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas. I use sweet little clementines, often marketed as “Cuties,” in a nod to the season. Pomegranate seeds are sprinkled over the top for a splash of color and a bright sweet-tart note. Pepitas contribute satisfying crunch.

The dressing is a riff off the citrus and black pepper dressing recipe in “Mediterranean Fresh,” by Joyce Goldstein (Norton, 2008). I punch it up with lime juice and chopped chipotle peppers. If that’s too spicy for you, feel free to substitute additional black pepper for the chipotle.

This salad is easy to whip up while the beans are simmering and the tamales steaming. Yet it’s pretty enough for a celebration dinner. Though the sparkling flavors and multiple textures prove a welcome counterpoint to the spicy tamales, they would work just as well with roast beef.

Serves 4

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons chopped chipotle pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
4 clementines
2 avocados
1 head butter lettuce
¼ sweet red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
½ cup pomegranate seeds

Make dressing by whisking olive oil, orange juice, lime juice, chipotle and black pepper together in a small bowl. Add salt to taste and set aside.

Peel clementines and divide into segments, removing all the white connecting fibers you can. Set aside.

Cut avocados in half lengthwise and remove pit. With a small sharp knife, cut parallel slices lengthwise through the flesh of each half, about ¼ inch apart, being careful not to cut the skin. Then gently scoop around the rim of the peel with a large spoon to free the slices. Drizzle with a couple of spoonfuls of dressing to prevent browning.

Remove any bruised or torn outer leaves from head of butter lettuce. Pull off the remaining leaves whole, then wash and spin or pat dry. Toss leaves with ¼ cup of dressing.

On a large platter or individual salad plates, arrange a layer of lettuce, then top with avocado slices, clementine wedges, and red onion slices in an attractive pattern. Sprinkle with pumpkin and pomegranate seeds, then drizzle with dressing. Pass remaining dressing separately.

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