I have a confession to make: I went all the way to Mexico and fell in love with a pretty basic green salad. Sure, I ate tacos (twice a day), some fantastic grilled chicken and some pretty incredible ceviche. But it’s a salad, at a hotel restaurant, no less, that I can’t stop thinking about.
You see, my trip was to Tulum, which, in the last 10 years has gone from being a backwoods, electricity-at-night-only kind of beach spot to one where half of the people on my Instagram feed go when New York temperatures start demanding boots instead of clogs. These days, Tulum is more bobo than boho, with a relaxed haute hippie vibe (don’t be surprised if you awake to seeing people shooting yoga videos on the beaches and rocks) and, of course, hotels with WIFI signals. (How else could people upload those photos, leaving everyone in Brooklyn drooling?)
Because of restaurants like Hartwood, Gitano and Posada Margherita, Tulum has also become a bit of a food destination. I didn’t go for the food, however. I went for a wedding and a pretty incredible one at that. It was my first real vacation since my daughter was born three years ago and my first long vacation without her.
I’m ashamed to say that, on this trip, I neither visited the famous Mayan ruins nor did I do much obsessive chow hounding. The wedding kept us pretty busy (if you call drinking margaritas in designated spots busy, that is), and in my down time, I was happy to just float in the Caribbean or swing in a hammock with a used copy of Blood, Bones and Butter.
I did, of course, get hungry at times. Unless I was eating a meal hosted by the bride and groom, I often went to the restaurant at my hotel, El Pez. The food there was quite tasty if not groundbreaking, with plenty of good fresh ingredients, including eggs with yolks the color of sunflower petals. On the first night, my friend and I ordered a seafood platter, which included a whole fish covered with octopus, clams and shrimp, all grilled and well-seasoned. Nothing wrong with that! With it came a salad, the salad. A tumble of romaine hearts, pea shoots, large chunks of diced jicama and cucumber and a bracing lime dressing, this salad was so refreshing; hydrating even. I couldn’t stop eating it and remarking, “This salad!” which earned me a few funny looks.
I later had a more substantial version of the salad, this one made with caramelized onion and avocado. There might have been pumpkin seeds as well or I might have imagined them. No matter. I think that the secret to this salad was generous use of lime juice and salt along with a lot of crisp vegetables. I loved the way the cucumber and jicama were cut into large pieces (about 1-inch chunks), giving you delicious contrast between their well-seasoned outsides and plain, juicy interiors. My market sells jicama pre-diced, so you’ll see that the pieces in my photo are a bit smaller.
Ok, enough salad analysis. Here’s the recipe! (Plus, bonus photos from a wedding that looked like it was straight out of a Pinterest board.)
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
- 1 romaine heart, torn or cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 handful pea shoots
- 1 cucumber (the thick-skinned fine is fine), peeled, halved and seeds scooped out, cucumber chopped into large chunks
- 1 cup peeled diced jicama
- ½ lime
- 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Hass avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into large chunks
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat a toaster oven or oven to 350°.
- Spread the pumpkin seeds out on a small baking sheet or sheet of foil and toast until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. (You can also do this in a dry skillet). Let cool.
- In a large bowl, toss the romaine with the pea shoots, cucumber and jicama. Squeeze the lime and drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the salad and gently toss again. Add the avocado, season generously with salt and pepper and toss gently one last time, until the salad well seasoned. Add another tablespoon of olive oil, if desired. Serve immediately in shallow bowls