In the past seven days, my family and I have eaten:
- One birthday cake frosted with maple buttercream
- One whipped cream-filled chocolate-pecan Swiss roll
- One batch of my mother’s spoon cookies
- One-half batch of my mother’s pecan squares
- Eight ounces of homemade caramels
- One-half box of pecan pralines, sent by my sister in Texas
Nor is that a complete accounting, it being Thanksgiving and all — just the most ignominious items. At least we didn’t have pie.
The act of writing up that list brought to mind Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, who, on a single, climactic Saturday, methodically eats his way through “one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.”
As a list of phrases, Carle’s passage has marvelous cadence and alliteration, and I used to love reading it to my kids when they were little.
As a menu, on the other hand, it’s a bit worrisome, not least because it sets a bad example: Two fruits and/or vegetables; five desserts? Nonetheless, I’m afraid it’s the pattern we’ve fallen into of late — though we did manage to spread our dietary peccadillos across a whole week. (What does it mean that I am comparing my family to a fictional caterpillar in order to justify our gluttony?)
The average American consumes between 3,000 and 4,500 calories during Thanksgiving dinner, so clearly we are in good company — or bad company, depending on what you think of the average American these days. Still, it does seem sensible to reset our gustatory expectations in the weeks ahead, if only to give our digestive systems a break before Christmas rolls in.
Many years ago, we visited family friends over Thanksgiving break. As lunchtime approached on the day after the big feast, I was suddenly overtaken by a craving for a salad of grapefruit and avocado. I had brought grapefruits; my friend had avocados. They were sitting together in a bowl, so while I’d never before encountered that combination, it suddenly seemed natural. I was certain they would taste good together. I tossed it with some fruity olive oil and sea salt. Perfect. I made a bigger version that night for our families, with a little pickled onion mixed in, and they all enjoyed it as much as I did.
I’ve tinkered with the recipe since then, adding toasted hazelnuts when I wanted a more substantial dish, and mint just for kicks.
Yesterday, out of the blue, I found myself craving this salad again. The clarity and specificity of my yearning made me wonder if perhaps flavor alone wasn’t the draw. Maybe my body needed this combination of cleansing citrus and nourishing, supple avocado.
Carle’s caterpillar pays for its day-long pig-out with a tummy ache and a gigantic physique. The next day, it eats one “nice green leaf” and feels better.
From now on, I will think of this dish as my version of that nice green leaf.
Grapefruit Avocado Salad
Supreming grapefruits takes a bit of time and care but is important to the texture and flavor of this salad. Good, fruity olive oil and mild, flakey sea salt contribute key flavors, so use the best you can afford.
- ¼ cup hazelnuts
- 2 pink grapefruits, supremed (see below)
- 1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
- 1 tablespoon quick-pickled red onions (see recipe below)
- 10-12 mint leaves, sliced
- Fruity olive oil (see headnote)
- Sea salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees, or use a toaster oven. Spread the hazelnuts on a small pan and toast until skins begin to blister and nuts are golden and fragrant, about 10 to 12 minutes. (Don’t worry if some patches remain.) If using toaster oven, toast nuts 1 to 2 minutes at a time, tossing and removing any that turn brown, then returning the rest to the oven until all are golden and skins beginning to loosen.
Wrap hazelnuts in a clean dish towel to steam for a minute, then rub vigorously to loosen skins. Set aside to cool, then roughly chop.
In a medium bowl, combine grapefruit segments, avocado, onion, mint and toasted nuts. Toss very gently so the fruits don’t disintegrate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Eat right away or the avocado might turn brown.
Quick-Pickled Red Onions
Soaking sliced onions in vinegar for even a few minutes breaks down their pungent, sulfuric bite, mellowing them without compromising flavor — perfect for almost any dish where raw onions are called for. Cider or coconut vinegar is good for this salad, but in a pinch, any type will work.
- ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup vinegar (see headnote)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, adding water if necessary to keep onions submerged. Set aside for at least 3 minutes. Onions will continue to mellow as they sit. Onions will keep, stored in a jar in the fridge, for up to 2 weeks.
How to Supreme a Grapefruit
You need a very sharp knife to supreme citrus. The process takes a bit of patience, but it is fun and satisfying, and the resulting, pith- and membrane-free segments are a delight to eat, and worth the effort!
Slice off the top and bottom of the grapefruit.
Stand the grapefruit on one end, and slice down along the inside of the skin, rotating the fruit and slicing off the white pith as you go. You’ll remove a bit of pulp as well, but don’t worry — you can squeeze it to make juice or scrape it and add to your final dish. When you’ve gone all the way around, flip the fruit over and repeat if needed to remove any remaining pith.
Working over a bowl to catch juices, slip the knife in alongside one membrane, cutting towards the core, then rotate the knife blade out and up along the other side of the membrane, removing the segment. (I use a smaller knife for this step.)