A fantastic dinner!

I’ve been wanting to tell you about the small dinner party I had a few weeks ago where I served the Vegetable Lasagna with No Pasta as a first course. You see, it all started with me wanting to make this salad I found on Food 52 – Amanda Hesser’s (formally of The New York Times fame) blog. It’s broiled pineapple, avocado and watercress with a cumin dressing. Doesn’t that just sound so unusual and so good?

Well, it was! And it was beautiful too!Grilled pineapple, avocado, and watercress salad with sliced shallots and a cumin vinaigrette dressing on a white platter.

The author’s note says that this salad is great served alongside spicy shrimp or slow cooked pork and black beans and rice. A Cuban meal!

Since it was our main course, that meant I couldn’t start with a salad. And with the weather finally getting warmer, soup was not appealing and the tomatoes are not ripe enough for a gazpacho. So that is how I came to the idea of starting the meal with the vegetable lasagna.

The whole dinner was amazing, as my husband and guests told me. I served the salad with some spicy Goan shrimp and Jasmine rice and black beans.Jasmine white rice with black beans in a square bowl.

We finished with fantastic homemade lemon bars with a buttery rich crust studded with pine nuts. That recipe to come. But I forgot to take a picture of the shrimp – sorry.

MARICEL E. PRESILLA’S CUBAN AVOCADO, WATERCRESS, and PINEAPPLE SALAD – serves 6

2 bunches watercress
One 2 1/2 pound pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into four 1-inch thick slices
1 tbs. sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbs. fresh lime juice
1/8 tsp.+ ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Haas avocados
1 small red onion (5 ounces), thinly slivered lengthwise (I used a shallot – I couldn’t find the red onion I bought!)

Wash the watercress well in large bowls of cold water to remove the grit or sand. Discard any yellowing leaves and remove the tough stems; for this salad, you want only the leaves and tender stems. Spin dry in a lettuce spinner and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Heat the broiler. Place the pineapple slices on a baking pan and sprinkle sugar evenly on top of them. Broil about 4 inches from the heat source, turning once, for 5 to 10 minutes on each side, until golden brown. (You can line your pan with aluminum foil for easier cleanup, but not parchment — it may catch fire.) Let cool, then cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside.

For the dressing, mash the minced garlic with the salt on a cutting board. Place the mashed salted garlic, lime juice, cumin, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Taste for seasoning. Set aside. I added a pinch more cumin.

Cut the avocados lengthwise in half around the pit and remove the pit. Take a small paring knife and cut 1/2″ strips lengthwise and crosswise but do not cut through the skin. Take a large tablespoon and scoop it all out in nice cubes. Alternatively, place the avocado halves cut side down on the work surface and slice lengthwise into 1/2″ wide wedges. Peel each segment by hand or with a paring knife, and cut into 1/2″ cubes.

Assemble the salad: Place the watercress in a medium bowl and toss with half the dressing. Arrange on a large platter. Add the pineapple and avocado to the same bowl and toss with the rest of the dressing. Mound the pineapple and avocado over the bed of watercress. Garnish with slivers of red onion and serve immediately.

SPICY GOAN SHRIMP – adapted from Michael Romano
– serves 4 – 5

6 dried red Thai chiles
12 whole black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
One 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves
2 tbs. Champagne vinegar
1 tsp. brown sugar
Sea salt
1.5 lbs. shelled and deveined raw shrimp, tails left on, thoroughly washed and patted dry
1.5 tbs. olive oil
Lime wedges, for serving

Grind the chiles, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and cumin in a spice grinder. Add the ginger, garlic, vinegar, brown sugar and salt and blend until smooth. Rub this paste over the shrimp and let marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shrimp and sauté over high heat until golden and just opaque throughout, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter, garnish with lime wedges and serve.

STEVE’S SUGGESTED WINE PAIRINGS:

White Wine:  2011 Eroica Riesling from Columbia Valley, WA, by Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen

Red Wine:  2010 Villa Mt. Eden Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Both are $20 or less and represent very good values.  Trade up in these type of wines if you are not budget-constrained.