I want to ask you to join me on a trip: Imagine us, you and me, together in Dallas, Texas circa 1960. Neiman Marcus is the center of the elegant universe, and, of course, it has the best restaurant in town. I think we should go there for lunch. Helen Corbett is there, presiding over her culinary empire, and boy is she famous! Sought after for her unusual combinations, upscale sensibility, and all around amazing efforts, Stanley Marcus, one of the world’s most brilliant merchants, courted her for years before she finally joined the Neiman’s team. The fact that she is a Yankee, born and bred in New York City is excused, because she taught Texans how to really eat.
Corbett (1906-1978) spent forty years in Texas in the food business catering to Texas’ burgeoning carriage trade and becoming renowned around the United States among Neiman’s customers and other enthusiasts for posh and delicious food, and a thorough and well-researched appreciation of quality. She wrote more books than the law should allow. One of her most famous recipes was for poppyseed vinaigrette, which she served over the gorgeous Texas ruby red grapefruits in winter. I re-examined this classic, and found that the original recipe was far too sweet for today’s (and my) tastes, but that the idea was captivating and current. Below you’ll find an updated version of the Corbett classic, and one that I serve usually on New Year’s night because that’s just about the right time for those beautiful fruits to reach their full potential.
Avocado, Grapefruit, and Macadamia Nut Salad with Manchego Cheese and Poppyseed Vinaigrette
YIELD: 4 to 6 servings
1 head Bibb (these days they call it “butter”) lettuce
1 large Texas ruby red grapefruit
3 tablespoons roasted whole macadamia nuts
2 tablespoons grated or diced Manchego cheese
1 medium avocado
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons poppy seed vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuce. Break the leaves into pieces. Peel and section the grapefruit.
- Mix the lettuce, macadamia nuts, and cheese in a large bowl, then add salt and pepper to taste.
- Just before serving, so that they don’t turn brown, peel and dice avocado into large chunks and add it to the salad bowl.
- Add the poppy seed vinaigrette and toss the salad at least sixteen times. Add the grapefruit sections on top, so as not to break the sections, drizzle them with a bit more of the vinaigrette, and serve.
YIELD: 4 cups
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
3 tablespoons minced red onion
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable oil
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the vinegar, poppy seeds, red onion, garlic, mustard, salt, sugar, and pepper. Add the vegetable oil slowly in droplets, whisking constantly to make the perfect emulsion.