Every year around this time, I crave foods that go crunch, foods alive with freshness, color and texture. Last year I was eating this radish and fennel salad. This year, my mind wandered far back in its archives - taking me back about 14 years. You'll never guess what I was doing back then. I was 23 years old, living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and every couple of days I'd get all suited up in my polyester blue dress with a plastic belt, stockings, high heels. I'd pin my hair up in a french twist, attach my translator pin at the lapel of my blue blazer and drag my roll-aboard clunking along on the sidewalk behind me. I'd make my way down the stairs of the subway, take two trains and a bus out to Newark airport, and from there board an international flight -- have you guessed it? I was a flight attendant.
I became a flight attendant with three things in my head. I loved to travel, I loved people and I had a burning urge to go to Brazil. Well, I made it. And when I was taking in the sun at the hotel in Copacabana, watching those volleyball players on the beach with their sculpted physiques, sipping fresh coconut juice, it was all worth it. I've never lost my love for the Brazilian language, music, food, or spirit. To me, a girl from Massachusetts, Brazilians were so alive, their zest for life so tangible and sensual. In the end, the career was short-lived. A few emergency landings later and I had definitely lost my naiveté and "love" of the general public. But those days in Rio will never leave me.
For some reason one of my favorite ingredients came back to me the other night. Heart of palm. Palmito in Portuguese. There I was again, sitting by the beach (while it was winter in NY), eating a salad with big chunks of palmito, fresh tomatoes, drenched in olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkled with salt. Those few ingredients together were so divine. So here I am 14 years later, worlds away from those days of high altitudes, just coming into another season. Here's a salad I created to celebrate Spring, and all things bright and beautiful. I hope you've enjoyed the flight.
Salad of heart of palm, blood orange, avocado and endive
2 blood oranges (or 1 grapefruit)
1 can or jar of heart of palm
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
coarse salt and pepper
Cut the avocados into chunks. Remove the rind and white pith from the blood oranges, then cut those into chunks. Slice the endive and the hearts of palm and combine all the vegetables in a bowl. Mix a dressing of about equal parts lemon juice and olive oil, mix in some mustard powder if you have it, and dress the salad. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.