Going to the allergist can be a beautiful thing.
Mostly, it is a painful, itchy thing, often leavened only by the sad news that you are very allergic to grass, tree pollen, wheat and cats, and that you should probably never eat any kind of seafood again, but sometimes there is good news.
Like this last time I went, when I found out that I was VERY allergic to grass, trees, wheat and cats (although cats I was not as allergic to as I used to be) and that I was most likely allergic to shrimp and had begun to react to clams, and thus shouldn’t touch crab (a sad thing indeed), I did learn that I am only barely allergic to horses (I used to be terribly allergic to them), I am no longer reacting against dogs (they used to make me hideously allergic), and blue-green molds are no longer causing allergic reactions.
That last one is particularly good news, because for my entire life, I have adored blue cheeses, and ever since I first tasted one when I was about three, they have tended to make me quite ill. Later, when I had bacterial pneumonia and was in the hospital for several weeks, my doctor discovered I was allergic to penicillin. Then, when I finally went to an allergist for the first time, one of the biggest allergens I reacted to was mold.
It all came clear to me then, why exactly it was that certain cheeses would make me ever so terribly sick after I ate them–especially blue cheeses. (The rinds of Brie and Camembert were also problematic for me, and still are.)
Once I knew positively what was happening, I stopped eating blue mold cheeses. Well, mostly. I would sneak a taste now and then, because I loved them so much–especially Gorgonzola–that was my favorite. But, if I ate too much of it–well, I paid a pretty awful, painful price, so I was careful.
And some blue cheeses, such as Stilton, or Maytag Blue, I never even got to try.
I just read about them and sighed and wondered.
Last night, I made a delicious salad featuring Stilton, which I now know I love. I know because I finally tasted it last night and I think I like it even better than Gorgonzola. Oooh. A new goodie for me. It almost makes up for the lack of crab. Almost. Not. Quite.
Anyway, back to the salad–it features the aforementioned Stilton, which I paired with toasted English walnuts, finely diced raw red onion and a fairly firm avocado. These I placed over a bed of romaine and mixed baby greens with radicchio, and drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing made from pomegranate molasses, (this thick, tangy dark brown liquid can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores–it is boiled down pomegranate juice)walnut oil, honey, salt and Aleppo pepper. The entire salad was sprinkled with finely minced fresh rosemary leaves.
It is perfectly simple to do, and it tastes divine, and is great for a light vegetarian supper if paired with bread or a pasta dish. Or perhaps risotto?
The richness of the cheese and avocado are brightened by the sharp aroma of the onions and the medicinal, fresh pine-tree flavor of the rosemary. The soft cheese and avocados are contrasted with the lively crunch of the toasted walnuts (please take the time to toast them–they taste so much better) and the more subtle crispness of the red onion. Even the greens contrast with each other–the romaine is crisp, the radicchio is robust and the baby lettuces are buttery-soft. Finally, the tangy, sweet-sour enrobes the entire salad in a dazzling embrace of flavor and velvety smooth texture.
I will tell you, this recipe doesn’t give amounts–just ingredients. It is up to you how much of what you put into it, though I do put amounts for the dressing recipe. What you don’t use for the salad can be refrigerated, though I suggest that you blend it with an immersion or regular blender to re-emulsify it before using it again. Just shaking the jar generally doesn’t do the trick, because pomegranate molasses and honey are both so thick.
Avocado, Stilton, Walnut and Red Onion Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
3/4 cup walnut (or olive) oil
honey to taste (how much you use depends on the tartness of your pomegranate molasses–it varies from brand to brand)
pinch of salt (or to taste–it balances the sweet and sour flavors of the dressing)
1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes
fairly firm (but not hard) avocado, diced into small cubes
red onion diced very finely
finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
rosemary sprigs for garnish
Using a regular blender or an immersion blender, blend together the pomegranate molasses and walnut or olive oil until they completely emulsify. Taste, then add as much honey and salt as you need to balance the flavor, and the Aleppo pepper–then blend again.
Warm a heavy skillet–cast iron is ideal–over medium heat for a minute or two. Add as many walnut pieces are you are going to use–just don’t completely crowd the pan–it works better to only cover the bottom in one layer. Toast, shaking the pan and stirring the nuts, until they smell warm, brown, toasty and good, and their flesh has turned a more rich, golden brown color.
Turn nuts out onto a plate to cool completely. Sprinkle lightly with salt if you wish, though I don’t think it is necessary.
Put a pile of greens into each serving bowl. Into each bowl add a little pile of crumbled Stilton, then a little pile of avocado cubes. Around the edge, sprinkle the walnuts, then sprinkle the red onion and rosemary leaves over everything. Add a spiralling drizzle of the dressing, and a sprig of rosemary for garnish.
The dressing recipe makes enough for about six servings. You can double, triple or quadruple it easily–just adjust the Aleppo pepper amount from an exact measurement to “to taste.”
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