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FOOD; Serving Salad for 10 for What One Costs at a Fancy Restaurant

THE other day I had lunch in an expensive Manhattan restaurant that will remain nameless. My first course was a small salad, which consisted of diced avocado and slivered raw baby artichokes topped with Parmesan shavings served in a shallow bowl. What made it so good was the freshness of the ingredients, their unfussy preparation -- and the oil and lemon dressing. The only snag was the price: $21.95. But my outrage was tempered by the fact that the dish was so simple I knew I could easily duplicate it at home.

It inspired me to become more inventive with salads. I have become very tired of the ubiquitous mesclun mix, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and laced with bits of raw raddichio for color, which is served before, with or after the main course. So I rediscovered watercress, which is often overlooked in favor of more exotic, expensive greens. It costs only around 50 cents a bunch and is wonderful tossed with grilled onions and potatoes and served on its own or with grilled meat or chicken.

Arugula (a little more expensive at around $1 a head) makes a good foil for the richness of beets, which are best roasted in their skins -- to concentrate their flavor -- instead of being boiled. I like to serve this salad with roast chicken or grilled fish.

The avocado and artichoke salad that cost so much in the restaurant works out to less than $2 a person when you make it at home. For the price of one, you can happily serve 10.

Avocado-Artichoke Salad

Total time: 20 minutes

For the dressing:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup white-wine vinegar

Juice of 1 or 2 lemons, to taste

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the salad:

1 pound baby artichokes

2 ripe Haas avocados

1 lemon

About 1/4 pound Parmesan.

1. Make the dressing by combining the olive oil with the vinegar and about two tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste) and season with salt and pepper.

2. Trim the stalks from the artichokes and cut off the tops horizontally. Pull away all the green and tough outer leaves. Slice the artichokes very thin with a sharp knife (or use a food processor) and put them in a bowl. Toss them in the dressing. If you are slicing them by hand, put them in the dressing as you go along. It will keep them from turning brown.

3. Cut the avocados into half-inch chunks and squeeze lemon juice on them. Divide them among four plates or shallow bowls and season them to taste with salt and pepper. Put the artichoke slivers on top of each serving.

4. Using a cheese parer, shave the Parmesan (four or five shavings apiece) on top of the four plates. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Arugula and Roast Beets

Total time: 1 hour

4 medium-size beets

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, green part removed, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves

Lemon juice to taste

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 bunch arugula.

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Wash and trim the beets. Put them on a baking sheet and roast until they are tender, about 45 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them into quarters.

2. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic and tarragon leaves in a small bowl. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

3. Put the arugula leaves in a salad bowl. Top with the beets and toss lightly in the dressing. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Watercress Salad With Red Onion and Potato

Total time: 45 minutes

3/4 pound fingerling or small Yukon gold potatoes

1 medium red onion

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for grilling

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, green part removed, minced

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 bunches watercress, trimmed

1/4 pound black olives, pitted.

1. Preheat grill. Steam the potatoes until tender, then slice them. Slice the onion. Brush the potatoes and onions with a little oil and grill them lightly on both sides.

2. Make the dressing by combining the remaining olive oil, vinegar, mustard and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Put the watercress in a bowl and toss the leaves in the dressing. Add the onion, potatoes and olives and toss gently. Correct seasoning and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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