Amigas: This week, we’re going to Cuba. Bueno?
Over the weekend, my dear friend Margarita and I hosted a Cuban fiesta for 14 parents/friends to benefit our school. The evening was a smashing success in every way – perhaps because we managed to serve up a mountain of awesome Cuban and Cuban-inspired food without setting the kitchen on fire or poisoning anyone, but mostly because we had so much fun collaborating in the kitchen.
Over the next few days, I’m planning to share a few of the recipes from the dinner.
Margarita teaches Spanish and is Cuban-American, so she lent a certain authenticity to the endeavor. She prepared amazing Moros y Cristianos (Cuban black beans and rice), a delicious spicy Cuban pork roast with bitter orange, and picadillo (that I stuffed into empanadas) from memory.
I might be able to muddle a mean mojito, but have never set foot in Cuba, nor do I have any Cuban relations, so was frantically reading cookbooks and blog posts to assemble my assigned dishes. Gringa that I am, it took me three tries to get the flans right. OK, to be honest they never were quite right. After burning the first batch of caramel (smoke and all), and turning the second batch of caramel to hard candy (really?!) I ended up with little ramekins of flan that were sorta crème brulées with caramel sauce that I spiked with Grand Marnier.
Over the years, I have found that if things are going sideways if never hurts to spike your cooking with generous portions of alcohol. I couldn’t recreate that recipe if I tried.
But I can certainly re-create this salad, and it is well worth re-creating. Searching through a Cuban cookbook I received years ago, I discovered a salad composed of watercress, avocado, and pineapple. As Margarita would say: “Perfecto.”
I decided to create an orange-sherry vinaigrette to hint at the flavors Margarita would be featuring in her roast. I whizzed olive oil, orange marmalade, sherry vinegar, shallots, dijon mustard, a bit of garlic, lime, and orange juice in the blender to create this lovely, fruity dressing. It worked beautifully with the salad elements.
But let me pause for a moment to gush about the table settings for our fiesta. I asked my local florist (Company Flowers, Arlington) to create festive bud vases for this Cuban feast, and they completely outdid themselves:
They prepared eight separate tiny arrangements, each more stunning than the last:
I was so busy in the kitchen I didn’t get a great photo, but this gives you an idea of our table just before the guests sat down – you can see that lovely salad starting the meal in style:
The peppery watercress did blend beautifully with the silky avocado and sweetness of the pineapple, and I loved the punch of the red onion (be sure to slice it super-thin). And you know I think goat cheese is perfect on just about any salad, but was particularly nice here. Drizzled with the bright orange-sherry vinaigrette, this breezy little salad was a perfect start to a Cuban feast.
This super-simple salad would be a terrific everyday creation… Perhaps paired with some of the picadillo empanadas?
(Stay tuned, I’ll share the recipe soon, and tell a few more stories from the evening!)
I’m ready to visit Havana… perhaps I could take a lesson or two in flan-making?
Cuban Salad with Pineapple and Avocado and Orange-Sherry Vinaigrette
- 2 bunches watercress
- 2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 large Florida (West Indian) avocado or 2 Hass avocados, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 small red onion (5 ounces) thinly slivered lengthwise
- ½ cup crumbled goat cheese
- 3 tablespoons orange marmalade
- 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon coarse dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons orange juice
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, diced
- 1 clove garlic, diced
- Dash of pepper for taste
- Make the dressing by placing all the ingredients in a blender, and blending on high speed for about a minute, or until quite smooth.
- Using only the leaves and delicate stems of the watercress, divide the watercress between four plates (or scatter on one large platter)
- Layer the pineapple and avocado over the watercress
- Scatter the red onion slivers over the pineapple, then sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese on top.
- Drizzle the dressing to taste over the fruits and veggies (you will have extra dressing)