It has been said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. If there is any truth to that claim, then credit must be given to an Avocado Grapefruit Salad for bringing my parents together once upon a time. Since today is their wedding anniversary, I’m compelled to share this particular recipe with you this afternoon.
My dad was in college when he met my mom. His father was the chairman of the music department at Mankato State University in Minnesota, and it was he who hired my mom to be the new piano teacher on their faculty. Dad, a double major studying music and pre-med at that same university, was away at a summer music festival when Mom came for her interviews, but he remembers a letter from his mother shortly afterward saying, “We hired a new piano teacher. I think you’ll really like her.”
Mom was fresh out of grad school when she landed that job, and I like to imagine the impression she must have made when she first arrived at the university. Incredibly lovely and kind-hearted with an Audrey Hepburn-type grace, she was also a beautiful pianist, and my dad was completely smitten with her right away. Though they didn’t date until later, they did have a lot of built-in time together those first two years of knowing each other. Dad asked her to be the pianist for his cello recitals, just as an excuse to spend more time with her, and his parents often invited her to join them for social gatherings and faculty events. My mom loved their whole family, especially my witty dad who made her laugh a lot.
Now here’s a juicy bit of background information. My grandfather, a very honorable and proper man, hired Mom to replace the previous faculty piano teacher whom he’d fired for having an affair with a student. So you can only imagine his distress when he realized that his college-aged son was clearly swept off his feet by the new faculty pianist! Granted, Mom was only 24 when she met my 20-year-old dad and they were just friends for those first two years—obviously a very different scenario than a 50-year-old professor taking advantage of a young female student—yet it was the principle of it that I think was so upsetting to my grandfather. But eventually Dad graduated from college, rendering the student-faculty barrier obsolete, and it all worked out in the end.
Dad likes to tell about one of the first dinners that Mom cooked for him. Having grown up in Minnesota where most people ate a traditional meat-and-potatoes diet supplemented by canned or frozen vegetables, Dad was not accustomed to meals being an experience in epicurean adventure. But Mom, who was from the west coast and grew up working with produce straight from her garden, knew how to conjure up some serious magic in the kitchen. She really pulled out the stops the first time she cooked for him, beginning the meal with a salad involving avocado and fresh grapefruit. While those two ingredients are fairly commonplace for any of us cooking today, you have to appreciate how rare that would have been on any dinner table in 1960s Minnesota. I don’t know if my dad had ever even tried an avocado before that fateful evening, but apparently this salad totally blew his mind.
Dad claims that it was the most unusual thing he had ever tasted. And by extension, my mother was therefore the most exotic and remarkable woman he had ever encountered. If he had been merely smitten with her before, he was now a total goner after that salad. The combination of tangy-sweet grapefruit segments with the velvety avocado made a direct beeline towards his heart, for by the time he had finished that salad, he knew that he was going to marry her. And he did.
Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!
One Year Ago: Limoncello Floats
AVOCADO GRAPEFRUIT SALAD
While I can’t guarantee you any marriage proposals with this salad, I can promise that you will certainly make your guests happy when you serve this to them.
2 ruby red grapefruits
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I like to use champagne vinegar for this)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ cup olive oil
2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, and cut into ½-inch chunks
1 head of Bibb lettuce, leaves washed and spun dry
Prepare the grapefruit by cutting a thin slice off the top and bottom. Stand the fruit on one end and carefully follow the shape of the fruit with a sharp paring knife, cutting off the peel and the white pith. Holding each grapefruit over a bowl and carefully cut in between the membranes to remove the segments of fruit in between. Reserve the juice and discard any seeds that may have fallen in.
Combine the minced shallot with the vinegar, 2 tablespoon of the reserved grapefruit juice, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Let this sit for 5 minutes; this allows the vinegar and citrus to take off some of the sharpness of the shallot. Stir in the Dijon mustard, then gradually whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified.
Tear the lettuce leaves into bite-sized pieces and place in a large salad bowl. Add the grapefruit segments and avocado cubes. Add half the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine. Add more vinaigrette if necessary, so that all the ingredients are lightly coated with the dressing. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and fresh pepper as necessary. Makes 4 to 6 servings.