I think about this avocado and arugula grain salad a lot. It has everything I want in a salad: fluffy greens, nutty grains and seeds, creamy avocado, crunchy-crisp radishes and cucumbers, all tied together with a perfectly easy pickled jalapeño dressing. I have accidentally eaten half of this 4-person recipe before. It's that good.
This avocado and arugula salad is what you'd call a "riot of textures."
Eating a bowl of lettuce can be refreshing. That's undeniable. But if you're looking to be "refreshed" and fully fed, give this recipe a try. It's a full-blown party in a bowl. Crisp, crunchy, creamy, toothsome, tender... This salad is all of that, but never for a moment does it feel over-complicated or confused.
The flavors in this salad work together perfectly, creating a fun yet healthy meal.
For me, the star of anything containing avocado is the avocado. I love avocado. But for best effect, it's important to balance the richness with complementary flavors and textures. A natural base, then, is crisp yet tender baby arugula. Its airy, almost frilly texture balances the density of the avocado, while its natural pepperiness balances the creaminess.
Thinly sliced radishes and cucumber do similar work, with their freshness and crunch. Toasted, salted pepitas add extra crunch, too, along with a pop of nutty salinity that also perks up the avocado and peppery arugula.
To take this salad from "side" to "main," I like to add cooked whole grains. They taste fabulous--nutty and savory-- and also add a perfect chew that falls in between the crunchy veggies and creamy avocado. I've used quinoa in these pictures, and I love how it clings to the other ingredients. But, I also love a heartier grain like barley. That toothsome chew stands out in a really satisfying way. (To keep this salad lighter, simply omit the grains!)
This pickled jalapeño vinaigrette is like the "little black dress" of salad dressings..
Beyond good textures and balanced flavors, the simple secret to this salad is the dressing. By using the brine from a jar of pickled jalapeños, you add the necessary acidity, while also adding extra chili pepper flavor without too much more chili pepper heat! Do make sure to taste your brine before mixing everything together--some brands have more salt than others, so you may want to increase or decrease your added salt accordingly.
As I mentioned, this can easily stand alone as a whole meal. For a multi-course meal, try omitting the grains and pairing with a simple protein. I personally go for soft-boiled eggs, fried tofu, seared shrimp, or grilled chicken.
Notes for Success:
Try to avoid cutting the avocado until just before serving. Otherwise it will begin oxidizing quickly.
That being said, this salad holds up remarkably well overnight. The avocado will have oxidized but not lost its flavor. Some of the greens might wilt beyond appeal, but those rogue leaves can be picked out easily. Because baby arugula is relatively hearty, it will still have a perky, crisp texture.
Recipe: Avocado and Arugula Grain Salad with Jalapeño Vinaigrette
- 4 cups lightly packed baby arugula, 2½ ounces
- 1 cup cooked whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, or barley
- 3 radishes, sliced into thin half-moons
- 2 Persian cucumbers, sliced into thin half-moons, Or ½ English cucumber
- ½ cup lightly packed cilantro leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
- ¼ cup toasted pepitas, plus more to garnish, Or try a combo of pepitas and sunflower seeds
- 2 ripe avocados, diced
For the Dressing:
- ⅓ cup chopped pickled jalapeños
- ⅓ cup pickled jalapeño brine
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon honey, agave, or maple syrup
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Step 1Make the dressing. In a large bowl, mix together the jalapeños, their brine, and the minced garlic. Let sit 10 minutes, to mellow the raw bite of the garlic. Whisk in the olive oil, honey, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Taste and adjust salt to your liking.
- Step 2Add the arugula, whole grains, radishes, cucumber, cilantro, scallions, and pepitas to the bowl and toss to evenly coat with the dressing. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Fold in the avocado, trying not to smush it too much. Serve sprinkled with extra pepitas.