The idea in the cookbook looked supremely appealing: Grill plum halves, then layer them in a salad of butter lettuce, radicchio, jicama and serrano chili peppers.
Drizzle on a sweet-tart dressing and dollop with a basil-flecked ricotta. You can taste it, right?
Sometimes, before you can taste it, the path from book to plate takes more than a few detours. And that's perfectly okay, as long as you end up with something you enjoy making and eating.
My detours started when I more closely read the recipe in the lovely book "Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle's Plum Bistro," by Makini Howell (Sasquatch Books, 2013).
The ricotta she calls for is a vegan sub-recipe called "Basil Soy Ricotta," and it entails draining silken tofu, then blending it with fresh and dried basil plus oil, sugar, garlic, lemon and a few more ingredients. For the salad, you take a cup of that and cook it in a skillet for a few minutes to dry it out and make it a little crumbly, to be scattered (not dolloped) on top of the salad before serving.
No offense to the chef-author, but I wasn't really feeling up to all that, especially because my kitchen was hot, I was hungry, I'm not vegan and I love ricotta and its creamy, rich texture. So I took a turn. The "ricotta" lost its quotation marks, its skillet treatment and more.
My second detour came when the supermarket was fresh out of jicama but had perfectly ripe Asian pears, whose crunch and slightly watery sweetness has always reminded me of jicama. So I turned again.
The final detour came after I made the dressing of lime juice, olive oil and agave syrup (and simplified the whole thing further by whisking the serrano and lime zest right in with the dressing rather than keeping them separate and requiring the salad to be tossed). I looked at the dressing in one bowl and the ricotta-basil blend in another and thought, why not combine them? Now I had something more like a green goddess dressing, creamy and sweet-tart and spicy, all in one.
Destination achieved: an unconventional summer salad, beautiful to behold and simple to achieve, now that those detours are mapped out. If you want to turn in a different direction, who am I to object?
Grilled Plum and Asian Pear Salad With Radicchio
½ cup (4 ounces) whole-milk ricotta (may substitute silken tofu)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lime
3 large basil leaves, chopped
1 serrano chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon agave syrup
Freshly ground black pepper
4 medium plums, halved and pitted (about 12 ounces total)
1 large head radicchio, cored and torn into bite-size pieces
1 small head butter lettuce, cored and torn into bite-size pieces
1 Asian pear, peeled, cored and cut into batons or matchsticks (may substitute
8 ounces jicama matchsticks)
Combine the ricotta, oil, lime zest and juice, basil, serrano pepper, agave and a pinch each of salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth.
Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to high (500 degrees).
If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly in the cooking area.
For a very hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 5 inches above the coals for 1 or 2 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly grease the grill rack with cooking oil spray and place it on the grill. (Alternatively, use an indoor grill pan set over high heat.) Lightly sprinkle the plum halves with salt and pepper. Grill, cut sides down, until they are darkly seared, 2 or 3 minutes, then turn them over and grill them for 2 to 3 minutes on the second side. Transfer to a plate to cool.
Arrange the radicchio, lettuce and Asian pear on a platter, or divide among individual plates. If doing the latter, place two plum halves on each plate. Drizzle the dressing over the salad(s) and serve.
Per serving: 170 calories, 5 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar