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

April 17, 2013

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.

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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

Read More:
Our 7 Favorite Avocado Recipes
A Tiki Party Plan
Mom's Pineapple Upside Down Cake

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Hemangi Shah
    Hemangi Shah
  • sasha black
    sasha black
  • healthierkitchen
  • DessertByCandy
  • gingerroot
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Hemangi S. December 28, 2020
Such a SMART and delicious salad! The flavor combination here is so beautiful! One iof my fav go-tos. Thank you so much for sharing!
sasha B. May 12, 2013
I am making this for the 2nd time in 2 days all I can say is WOW
healthierkitchen May 3, 2013
this was wonderful for dinner last night with a side of beans and rice. I think it would be terrific with some shrimp or crabmeat mixed right in.
DessertByCandy May 2, 2013
Served as part of spring brunch menu of over a dozen dishes to a discerning crowd. This salad really stood out with its vibrant and complex flavours. Made with pre-washed arugula for convenience.
gingerroot April 25, 2013
This is a fabulous recipe. Adding it to my menu for a thank you teacher/staff brunch I have to host in June. My plan was to serve alongside chicken tacos and rice and beans, but we ended up putting some salad in the tacos and they were delicious. I love this column!
marie.killian.5 April 23, 2013
Delicious and thank you for that! Is it not so much fun to be soon getting fresh, homegown lettuce? I am in MI so, yeah, been waiting and excited. Then top it all off with the best olive oil EVER! Carothers' Olive Oil. http://www.carothersoliveoil.com/store.
faded-elegance April 23, 2013
Delicious. Had to substitute arugula for the watercress and slivered cipolini for the red onion - it was still terrific. Served with Bobby Flay's orange/ginger/molasses marinated turkey breast and a roasted yam. Beautiful on the plate and great flavors together.
Twinsx2mom April 21, 2013
This was amazing! Total yum!
bkw April 20, 2013
I live in a retirement community near Boston; everything was locked down; the staff couldn't get here; we had box-lunch sandwiches, fruit and cookies. I'd already shopped to make this wonderful salad, and it made the evening, even though we were watching the end of the Boston Marathon tragedy/horror playing out on the television set.
bkw April 20, 2013
The Avocado, watercress and roasted pineapple recipes says it serves 6 to 8. Three women in their eighties finished off the whole bowl last night. It's wonderful!
Kristen M. April 20, 2013
I love this. Did you have anything else with it, or was it the main event?
mrslarkin April 18, 2013
I love that cookbook! Might have to try this next time I make carnitas for the eleventyseventh time.
Kristen M. April 20, 2013
Carnitas sounds perfect!
drbabs April 17, 2013
Yay! I'm so happy you liked this.
Kristen M. April 17, 2013
We loved it!
Marisa R. April 17, 2013
I will have to try this. Caramelized pineapple is incredible and I have'nt got anymore ideas for avocados
Kristen M. April 17, 2013
Avocados are just too good on toast -- I sometimes forget to eat them any other way. This recipe roundup (also linked above) might help us too: http://food52.com/blog/5442-our-7-favorite-avocado-recipes