Salads tend to be a throw away item for many people usually consisting of some sad lettuce, under ripe tomatoes, pre cambrian croutons and bottled dressing that spews out of a spigot somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike. The worst of these so called salads come from a bag in the supermarket and are consumed mechanically for the simple reason that it was placed on the table in front of you. In reality salads can be varied, exciting and executed in minutes. I try to make some kind of salad with every meal not only because it adds zest and verve to your daily repast but also because raw vegetables usually have the most nutrients and let’s face it, we could all use more roughage in our lives. We also need to remember that the word salad does not necessarily mean “lettuce and stuff”.
I developed this recipe while living in New Jersey where fennel is commonly available in most grocery stores and is well loved in Italian, Indian, Chinese and other cuisines. I first had fennel or finocchio as it is called in Italian at my friend Paul Giordano’s house when I was in high school. I had been invited over for dinner and after the meal Mrs. G brought out a bowl of ice water with wedges of what looked like pudgy celery floating in it. It was eaten after a meal as a digestive and in fact contains compounds that act as an antiflatulent and antibacterial agent and has a number of useful medicinal properties. I was amazed at this cold, crunchy, slightly sweet vegetable that tasted of licorice and I consumed it with relish. There are both male and female bulbs, with the female being plumper and the male being flatter. I prefer to use the female bulb but will take whatever is available in the store. The combination of the sweet fennel and red onion against the bite of the radishes and the velvety soft avocado are a perfect combination in the tart mustardy vinaigrette. My wife loves it and when I bring it to a pot luck it is always much talked about and has become my signature salad.
Fennel, Radish and Avocado Salad:
1 large bulb fennel, thinly sliced
10 to 12 radishes, thinly sliced
1 medium avocado, cut in large cubes
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tbs dijon mustard
2 tbs fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tbs sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic crushed
1 tbs minced shallot
1 tsp each chopped fresh oregano and thyme (if fresh herbs are not available use 1 tsp dried oregano and omit the thyme)
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Start by preparing the dressing. To a large mixing bowl add the lime juice, sherry vinegar, crushed garlic and shallot and allow to stand for 10 minutes. This will mellow the bite of the raw garlic and shallots and is important if you don’t want your guests burping noxious clouds of garlic all night. After 10 minutes add the mustard and drizzle the olive oil in, whisking constantly to achieve an emulsion. When an emulsion has been achieved, add the herbs and season to taste. When the dressing is done, add the diced avocado and toss it in the dressing first to coat. Add the remaining ingredients and toss just to combine being careful not to completely crush the avocado. The avocado will begin to disintegrate and thicken the dressing but you still want some chunks when the salad is served.