There comes a time when the excitement of the holidays is over, the motivation and enthusiasm of the new year has waned, and the burst of bustling spring energy still seems far off. This is about the time of year when I get sick of winter, and I start longing for the beach. More specifically, those sandy vistas, balmy breezes, and tropical waters full of life and animation. Funny, because I’ve only visited the tropics once in my life, about eight years ago almost to the day. Yet the feeling has always been there, before I ever stuck my toes in clear turquoise waters. It remains to this day, returning every February without fail.
As a chef and lover of ripe, seasonal food, I think the lack of diversity on the store shelves in this weird sliver of time between the end of the year and new spring crops plays a big part in my yearnings. I get terribly bored with the lack of better options and variety, and I find myself making the same food with the same flavors again and again. I crave freshness, and I imagine the food down south right now to be bursting with juiciness.
Traditionally, winter is a time of rest and rejuvenation. As someone who has a challenging time slowing down, I appreciate nature almost forcing me to do so. But I also relish keeping busy and full of dynamic vigor. I’m a creature of habit, but at the same time, change and excitement helps me thrive at my highest state. Too much winter slumber gives me cabin fever of sorts. A shift in scenery, even if it’s just daydreaming of the beach, is often just what I need to push through that last month or so, until the world starts waking from its dreamy phase. (Conversely, I’m sure, if I actually lived at the beach year-round, I’d get pretty bored of the sunshine and surf by now and would be craving some snow.)
Since I can’t jet off to the beach, I’ll have to bring the beach, and its fresh, bright flavors, to me. In this bright, tropical salad, plump shrimp—sparsely seasoned to allow their mild, briny flavor to shine through—marry harmoniously with colorful tomatoes, luscious avocado, and aromatic herbs. Tangy lime juice and a kick from chili peppers create a delectable final dish that’s reminiscent of ceviche and abundant with the freshness and vitality I crave.
The shrimp is full of nutrient rich protein and high in many minerals that are lacking in the modern diet, including selenium, phosphorus, and iodine. Not to be outdone, the avocado offers some serious sustenance with healthy fat, fiber, and multitudes of vitamins and minerals. This fiesta of a salad, bursting with zest and brightness, tastes as close to the beach as you can get—minus the sand on your fork.
Grilled Shrimp, Tomato, and Avocado Fiesta Salad:
—For the shrimp, Cajun seasoning would be awesome! See the recipe for my Cajun Spice Rub here.
Prep time: 20 minutes (plus some time to marinate)
Cook time: 10 minutes
24 oz. fresh, wild shrimp, peeled and deveined
½–¾ cup extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, plus more olive oil to toss with shrimp
Salt and pepper
2–3 large, ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
3 cups cherry tomatoes (assorted colors if possible), halved or quartered if large
½ small jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded (if you desire less heat) and finely minced (alternately, use crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 large limes, juiced
Special equipment: Stainless steel or bamboo skewers (optional, but they make it easier to grill the shrimp)
- Preheat grill to high. Toss shrimp with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper (or other seasoning of your choice). If using, thread shrimp onto skewers. Grill until charred and just cooked through, about 2–4 minutes, depending on size. Set aside. When cool, cut into large, bite-sized pieces.
- Meanwhile, place all veggies, garlic, and herbs in a large bowl. Add cooled shrimp. Drizzle with the olive oil. Add lime juice and a liberal amount of salt and pepper. Toss to combine, then cover and place in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes or longer if possible. Taste and adjust seasonings again before serving.