This amazingly flavorful salad is a tribute to a Mexican restaurant Ross and I went to for our Valentine’s Day date. We went to El Naranjo in downtown Austin, and the food was so amazing, I’m still dreaming about it. First of all, they are serving full-on Mexican interior (Oaxacan! Delicioso!) cuisine, not Tex-Mex, AND they have different kinds of mole on a rotating basis, so I was essentially sold as soon as I learned about the mole options. Of course we got traditional Oaxacan black mole and we even cheated on our vegan diet by having it with camarones, which I do not regret AT ALL. They also had a delightful bread service with mini breads and a red chile oil that Ross completely devoured.
But this recipe is inspired by the salad course, which was a mixed green salad with jicama chunks and a jamaica (hibiscus) vinaigrette. Their vinaigrette was pretty sweet, so I wanted to develop a dressing that had a balance of sweetness and tartness.
My vinaigrette starts with a jamaica simple syrup, which couldn’t be easier to make, and in addition to salad dressing, it can also be used in cocktails. Try a spoonful in a tall glass of Topochico with a squeeze of lime (and some tequila!). Dried hibiscus flowers are great to have in your kitchen, they make the most delicious tea, which I make constantly in the summertime and have it chilled with ice and lime. They can sometimes be found in the bulk section of your grocery store, but it’s so much easier to buy a pound online.
But my favorite part of this salad is the fresh jicama root (not jamaica, jicama). Jicama tastes like a crunchy apple or pear and it is very popular in Mexico. I bought a half a jicama root at Central Market for $0.83, no joke. If you can find one, it is so very worth it, it’s a perfect addition to salad or just eat it on its own. Cut jicama can be stored in the fridge in plastic for about a week, uncut jicama can be kept like a potato, in a cool, dark place, up to two weeks.
For a little bit of bite, I added some thin slices of watermelon radish, which we received in a CSA box. Regular red radish works just fine as a substitute, but if you happen to come across watermelon radish, do get some because they are so beautiful!
And finally, I sprinkled a few raw pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds). Hulled pepitas are green in color, and very good for you! If you haven’t had pepitas yet, try some they are a great snack, and they’re also delicious roasted.