Arugula is one of those peppery greens that can be overpowering and bitter when eaten raw. Thankfully, our colder northern climate removes much of the bitterness, leaving a rich and spicy pepper taste that has a buttery, earthy flavor. Arugula is wonderful wilted on pizza, added to spinach salads or wilted into pasta.

When eaten raw and by itself it needs some complimentary flavors to mellow its spiciness and bring out its more subtle qualities. Blue cheese or other soft cheeses help to accentuate its buttery texture. One of my favorite salads is a blue cheese, roasted walnut, pear and arugula salad. Its strong rich flavors are bridged with a dash of balsamic vinegar and some raw crushed garlic.

This recipe is similar, but a little lighter and anticipates the flavors of spring. The bright orange and pungent shallots both mellows and pairs with the peppery green, while the fats of the avocado smooth everything together. This is a wonderful lunch salad, the added crunch of roasted and salted pistachios providing excellent texture and substituting the need for any croutons or starch. Making this salad a gluten-free choice.

Pair this salad with a dinner entree of roasted and stuffed squash or a roasted eggplant pasta or curry. Its many flavors, both spicy and sweet, pungent and subtle go well with a variety of dishes. Arugula is a green to experiment with, enjoy and create some wonderful flavors. Try using different fruits, nuts and cheeses along with a variety of vinaigrettes to create your own signature salad.

2 oranges, zested
2 small oranges, juiced or 1 large orange, juiced
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T honey
2 t shallots, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10-12 oz washed arugula or spinach
1 tangerine or orange, cut into peeled wedges
1 avocado, cut into chunks
2 T pistachios, roasted in a dry pan until light brown and salted

In a blender combine the zest, juice, vinegar, honey, shallots, salt and pepper. Blend until well incorporated. While blending, add olive oil in a steady stream to emulsify. Transfer to a container and refrigerate.

Place arugula in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette and top with citrus and avocado chunks. Sprinkle on pistachios and serve.

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