Fruit in salad is usually one of my bigger food no-no’s. Not as big of a no-no as fruit and chocolate mixed together; a bigger no-no than, well, a lot of other things. There are exceptions, of course, to every rule. I love Cadbury fruit and nut bars, for one. And I don’t mind pears in salad, especially with a good balsamic dressing and lots of goat cheese, for two. I often think, though, that fruit is thrown into salad as a kind of shortcut to elegance. Like fruit will somehow make up for a lack of salad-making ability. Let’s throw in some strawberries! And some blueberries! And anything that has the suffix -berries! And maybe then nobody will notice this wilted lettuce and bad dressing.
The other day, though, I was making dinner. I was going to serve my guest some sliced mango with cayenne pepper as a little snack while I cooked, part of which was going to be assembling the salad. I have been researching Cuban recipes lately, and a typical side dish is avocado salad — just sliced avocados and sliced white onion, with a white vinegar and olive oil dressing, possibly over a bed of lettuce. I didn’t have any avocados, so I was just going to serve lettuce and sliced onion, a perfectly respectable salad in itself (I love raw onion). But then I realized, in a minor epiphany, why not just add the sliced mango to the salad?
It was such a spontaneous decision that my natural no-fruit-in-salad warning bells didn’t even have time to sound, and before I knew it, I had a much fuller — and more beautiful — salad in front of me. I sprinkled a little cayenne pepper — very lightly — over the whole thing, and then drizzled a dressing of white wine vinegar, olive oil, and a little salt and freshly ground pepper over. And voila! Fruit in salad, that not only isn’t disgusting, but actually adds an important flavor and textural element. Next thing you know, I may even try this watermelon-feta combo I’ve been seeing everywhere.
Cuban-Style Mango Salad
– handful of lettuce leaves (I used red leaf, but watercress or arugula would also be good)
– 1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into strips
– 1/2 white onion, sliced thin
– cayenne pepper
– white wine vinegar
– olive oil
– juice of 1/2 lime
– salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Arrange lettuce on a platter; layer mango and onion slices over. Sprinkle cayenne pepper very lightly over the salad.
2. Combine white vinegar, olive oil, and lime juice in a small bowl. I’m not sure what the proportions I used were — it was definitely the juice of 1/2 lime, maybe with 1 tbsp. of white vinegar and 1/4 c. of olive oil. Taste that combination; if you want it more acidic, add more vinegar; if you want to tone it down, add more olive oil.
3. Drizzle dressing over the salad. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.