- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Not long ago, the idea of eating a salad as a midday main course surprised many people. “Salad for lunch?” they’d ask. “What’s the matter? Aren’t you hungry? Are you on a diet?”

Those days are long gone. Today, many of us enjoy big lunchtime salads that combine a variety of greens and other vegetables along with seafood, poultry or meat. It’s a satisfying, healthy - and, yes, often light - way to enjoy a good meal that leaves you feeling fresh and ready to face the rest of the day.

Springtime and summer seem the best time to enjoy main-dish salads, which make the most of abundant produce in the markets and also provides a refreshing counterpoint to warmer weather. But I have the perfect solution for enjoying a big salad during the cold months: Warm it up!

Salads with a hot dressing or topping - sometimes called “wilted” salads because heat softens the greens - seem perfect for chilly autumn or winter days. The warm temperature is ideal for highlighting interesting seasoning combinations, making such salads more complex and flavorful and livening up your meal at a time of year when the world outside can seem dreary.

Many European chefs serve warm salads, especially featuring luxurious ingredients like freshly cooked lobster or duck. I’d cooked my share of them. So when my team of chefs and I were developing the menu for my first Chinois restaurant in Santa Monica back in 1983, it didn’t seem too much of a leap to try an Asian-inspired warm salad like the recipe I’m happy to share with you here, seasoned with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil (be sure to use the dark Asian kind pressed from toasted sesame seeds), soy sauce, and lemon juice.

Those flavors seem ideal complements for the mild, sweet flavor of plump shrimp or sea scallops. Quickly stir-fried and mounded on top of fragrantly dressed baby greens, the hot mixture wilts the salad slightly and releases the dressing’s flavors and aromas, resulting in a delightful combination of tender and crisp, hot and cold, sweet and spicy sensations.

Of course, you don’t have to prepare the salad Asian style. If you prefer, cook the seafood in olive oil with garlic and dress the salad with olive oil, lemon juice, fresh basil, and parsley for an Italian version.

The quantities I give here provide a good main course for four. You can also serve half-sized portions for a really satisfying appetizer.

Either way, mound the salad mixture on individual serving plates, having them ready before you cook the seafood. Then arrange the shrimp or scallops and their juices on top of the greens and quickly serve the salads, still sizzling hot, to your guests.

STIR-FRIED CHINOIS SHRIMP SALAD

Serves 4

CHINESE VINAIGRETTE:

4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

4 teaspoons Asian-style sesame oil

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons peanut oil

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

SHRIMP SALAD:

3 bunches watercress

6 ounces (185 g) mixed baby lettuce leaves

4 ounces (125 g) fresh enoki mushrooms, separated

1 1/2 pounds (750 g) fresh peeled and deveined shrimp, or fresh scallops, trimmed of connective tissue

Freshly ground white pepper

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons peanut oil

First, prepare the Chinese Vinaigrette: In a mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sesame oil, peanut oil, soy sauce and lemon juice. Whisk in salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Wash the watercress in two or three changes of clean, cold water, until the greens are absolutely clean. Pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. Remove and discard the large stems.

In a mixing bowl, combine the watercress, mixed baby lettuces and enoki mushrooms. Toss with just enough of the Chinese Vinaigrette to coat the salad lightly but thoroughly, reserving extra dressing to pass at the table. Mound the salad on individual serving plates.

Season the shrimp or scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a wok or a large saute pan over high heat. Add the peanut oil and as soon as it is very hot and fragrant, add the shrimp or scallops and stir-fry them, stirring continuously with a stir-fry spatula or a metal or wooden spoon, until they are just cooked through and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

Distribute the hot shrimp or scallops among the salads, spooning them on top of each mound. Serve immediately, passing extra dressing for guests who want a little more.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207.)

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