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In the Kitchen with Alison Highberger: Simple, elegant Avocado Dressing Salad a summer staple

Avocado dressing salad is a recipe Alison Highberger has been making for 20 years or so. ADRIANA JANOVICH (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Avocado dressing salad is a recipe Alison Highberger has been making for 20 years or so. ADRIANA JANOVICH (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

She’s learned and learned. With every request she’s learned.

So now Alison Highberger just keeps five or six hard copies on hand for whenever company comes and she serves her sought-after Avocado Dressing Salad.

With the cool crispness of the chopped romaine and creamy, chilled, smashed avocado, it’s particularly perfect on sultry late-summer nights. Garlic, Dijon mustard and freshly grated Parmesan add to the pungency, giving the whole dish a bit of a bite.

One of the best parts about it is how quickly it all comes together.

“I can have it on the table in 15 minutes or less,” said Highberger, who makes the dressing from scratch, shaking it in a jar to emulsify the ingredients.

It’s a summer staple, a go-to year-round when guests are coming for lunch or dinner, and the dish she can be counted on to bring to potlucks.

“This is the only thing I make that everyone asks me the recipe for,” Highberger said. “It cracks me up because it’s so simple. But, it feels upscale. It’s so rich.”

Perhaps the most difficult thing about it is finding a couple of perfectly ripe avocados.

There isn’t even too much chopping.

She’s made a few tweaks to it throughout the past two decades. Highberger, 60, can’t remember where she first found the recipe or where she first tasted it – “it’s been that long. … I know it by heart.”

Highberger, a freelance writer and publicist, has been making all of her own vinaigrettes since she wrote a story about the 2008 “Salad Dressings” cookbook by Jessica Strand. There’s a recipe in the book for an avocado dressing, too. It’s similar, but not quite the same as the one Highberger has honed.

“Talking to this author made me realize it was silly to spend money on salad dressings,” she said. “It’s cheap and easy to make salad dressing. Fresh, homemade salad dressing tastes so much better.”

The only one she still buys is blue cheese for her husband’s Buffalo wings. Dan Weig, the creative services director at KREM TV in Spokane, hails from Buffalo, New York, the birthplace of Buffalo wings.

Highberger writes a monthly “Cook like a Chef” food feature for The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, where the couple used to live.

For her famed salad, she mashes the avocados first, creating a layer of creaminess on the bottom of the serving platter. Then, she shakes the dressing, pouring it over the mash. After adding a layer of chopped romaine, she tosses it all together. If there’s any leftover grilled chicken or salmon, she throws that in, too.

It pairs well with burgers, flank steak, fish – “anything,” Highberger said, noting, “It’s a year-round salad. But it’s so perfect on a hot summer night when you don’t want to turn on the oven.”

Avocado Dressing Salad

From Alison Highberger of Spokane

2 small or medium ripe avocados, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 green onions, sliced

1/3 cup grapeseed or other light vegetable oil

1/6 cup white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, or combination of Parmesan, Romano, Asiago

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large head romaine lettuce, or 2 smalls heads, cleaned then torn or cut into bite-size pieces (see note)

Mix the first three ingredients together in the bottom of a large, low bowl or platter. Smash some of the avocado with a fork for a creamier dressing.

Shake ingredients through salt together in a jar, and pour over the avocado mixture.

Put the lettuce on top of the dressing and cover the salad with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (You can make this 3 or 4 hours before lunch or dinner.) Toss right before serving, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Note: In preparing the lettuce, Highberger slices through the lettuce with a serrated knife, making 2-inch pieces, then washes and dries them in a salad spinner.

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