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Maricel E. Presilla's Cuban Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Watercress, avocado, and caramelized pineapple walk into a bar, in Cuba.


We're on the cusp of the spring love affair we've been waiting for all winter. But guess what else is in season, just a bit further away? Pineapple. And avocado! So why would we stop at rhubarb and peas?

maricel presilla 

Thanks to Maricel Presilla, we don't have to. Presilla spent 30 years working toward last year's opus Gran Cocina Latina, which just happened to win an IACP award last week.

Her book is a sweeping survey of the Latin American food cultures, with 500 recipes. It even includes four distinct regional techniques for cooking plain white rice. 


For a taste of the genius in the book, Food52er drbabs sent me this salad. As she explained, "Avocado and pineapple? Sounds strange, right? But it's really good."  


But instead of cheery fresh pineapple typically used in Cuba, Presilla shakes a little sugar on top and broils it. 

The rings get sweeter and more mellow (just like on pizza!), with a little sultry char.

You could instead grill the pineapple, or sear it on the stovetop. Or, if you're feeling inert that day, per drbabs: "I must confess that I've never taken the time to caramelize the pineapple." So you've got options.

More: Another thing that takes well to caramelization -- white chocolate.

caramelized pineapple

No weak greens here -- just the peppery, surely healthy chlorophyll bite of watercress, which might remind you of austere soups and tea sandwiches.

So what is it doing with the likes of caramelized pineapple and avocado? Partying, that's what. Or at least loosening its tie a little, to blend in.

But if your salad risks getting too wild, a sturdy cumin dressing is there to anchor it.

This dressing also features a lot of raw garlic, which drbabs points out is miraculously tamed by lime juice (or cider vinegar), especially if you mix it up early the day you're serving. No regrets!


Next to spicy shrimp, or slow-cooked pork tacos, or black beans and rice, it's an altogether surprising and welcoming side. You'll want to eat it by the platterful, as will your guests. Good thing it serves 8. 

Maricel E. Presilla's Cuban Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad

Adapted from Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America (W.W. Norton, 2012)

Serves 6 to 8

2 bunches watercress
One 2 1/2 pound pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into four 1-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar or fresh lime juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large Florida (West Indian) avocado or 2 Haas avocados
1 small red onion (5 ounces), thinly slivered lengthwise

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom, except Maricel Presilla by Joseph Corrado

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Tags: Genius, genius recipes, salad, Maricel E Presilla, watercress, pineapple, avocado, Cuban food, Latin food

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