Katy Sosnak, a former scholar of Russian literature who lives in Berkeley, is the author of the blog Dining with Dostoevsky which she launched four years ago to chronicle her adventures in the kitchen. The name, she says, was chosen because Dostoevsky was the reason she embarked in a Ph.D in Russian Literature. Sosnak is inspired by both the wealth of local produce and her ever-growing collection of cookbooks, as well as the Greek, her “sidekick and sous-chef extraordinaire,” whose influence has ensured that even Sosnak’s grandmother now cooks baklava. In a new occasional series Sosnak shares her recipes — be they Mediterranean specialties, family favorites from southwestern Pennsylvania, simple Californian cooking, or a dish discovered on her travels — with Berkeleyside Nosh. First up: a summery avocado and strawberry salad.
When faced with a bowl of bright red and sweet-smelling strawberries, all I’m usually compelled to do is just to wash and eat them, or, if I’m feeling really splashy, to slice them thinly and tuck them into folds of honeyed whipped cream. It is the ultimate no-fuss, no-frills approach to eating, one that I find the colorful bounty of spring and summer tends to invite. Why, after all, transform or sweeten what already borders on perfection?
There are, however, moments that test my belief in unadorned fruit. One such moment occurred recently when I was reading Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book (1982), a book that approaches fruit broadly, tracing both its culinary history and its appearances in folklore and literature. The book also offers a host of recipes for the adventurous fruit lover; these alone are fascinating to read and may even make you rethink fruit’s role in the kitchen.
While it’s true that some of the recipes are a bit old hat (think Key Lime Pie and Strawberry Fools), there are others that, even 30 years past the book’s original publication date, still manage to tempt and surprise: Poires à la Chinoise, Spinach in Orange Cups and Avocado with Strawberry Sauce.
Although there were many recipes that beckoned to me, it was the latter that finally drove me into the kitchen with the goal of getting creative with my baskets of strawberries. I couldn’t resist the sound — or the promised visual appeal — of combining the sweet and slightly acidic red berries with the creamy mildness of green avocados.
While Grigson’s original recipe calls for equal parts olive and sunflower oil for the dressing and toasted almonds for a garnish, I decided to go down a slightly different path, using walnut oil and toasted walnuts instead.
The resulting salad is rich in flavor — both nutty and vibrant — and offers a pleasing textural contrast as well; imagine silky smooth sauce meeting small wedges of soft avocado sprinkled with crunchy bits of walnuts.
At first glance, it may seem either too pretty or perhaps even too “bizarre” (a word that the recipe’s creator, Prue Leith, used to describe it to Grigson) to eat, but all it takes is one bite to convince you that you’ve stumbled upon a recipe worthy of becoming a late spring and summer staple.
It’s also highly adaptable: one day it is a side for leftover roasted chicken, another morning it is breakfast with buttered toast, and it also makes a nice accompaniment to pizza. If you want something more than fruit in your salad (remember, a fruit develops from a flower and an avocado fits the bill), a few handfuls of peppery arugula, lightly salted and dressed with lemon, make a satisfying bed for both the avocados and the strawberry sauce.
Prue Leith’s Avocado Salad with Strawberry Sauce
Yields about 3-4 servings
Adapted from Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book.
One thing worth noting is that this recipe makes a lot of strawberry sauce. The leftover sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for 7-10 days and used to dress this and any other salad that needs a burst of fruity freshness. I had wanted to try my leftovers for making granola, but ran out before I could try it; I have the feeling that the oils and blended strawberries would create an interesting flavor.
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
8 – 9 ounces strawberries, washed and hulled
1.5 ounces walnut oil
1.5 ounces olive oil (together, the oils should come to 3 fl oz, or a scant 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
a few dashes of white or black pepper
3 ripe avocados
1 lemon, halved
Preheat the oven to 375 F and line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the walnuts on the lined baking sheet and, once the oven is ready, place in the oven. Let toast for 6-8 minutes, or until fragrant and slightly browned, then remove from the oven.
Using a food processor or blender, puree the strawberries until smooth. If using a processor, keep the machine going as you slowly add the oil. If using a blender, however, remove the lid, add the oil and then place back on the base before blending well. Add salt, sugar and pepper and blend or pulse briefly. Taste and adjust for flavor.
Once the dressing is ready, halve and peel the avocados, discarding the stones. Squeeze lemon juice over the avocados to prevent discoloration and then cut them into either thin fan-like slices or small wedges (if cut across multiple times, they can be made to fan out; if cut into multiple wedges, they can be carefully arranged on a platter). Then, carefully transfer the cut pieces to a platter.
Sprinkle the avocado pieces with the chopped and toasted walnuts and spoon the sauce both around and over them. Serve at room temperature.
A version of this post first appeared on Dining with Dostoevsky.
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