IMG_6044

Shrimp salad is cool, refreshing, perhaps a little well-to-do with its mild connotations of summering in Martha’s Vineyard or Chappaquidick Island. These days, it’s not exactly the kind of food that comes to mind as we brace ourselves against the Polar Vortex. And yet, I enjoy it. It’s tasty and pretty easy to make. You can serve it on a salad or a piece of toast. And for those of us who are busy or otherwise lazy in the kitchen, it requires very little ‘cooking.‘

This dish has a special place in my heart. In 2011, just after my wife and I were married, we flew to Montreal for our honeymoon. The city, though enormous, seemed somehow quaint and personable, a sort of mix of Midwestern friendliness and sophisticated french manners all at once. On our last day there, we happened upon a small restaurant where the guests dine in an enclosed courtyard. It was sunny and warm. Over a glass of a crisp and floral Rosé, we shared a salad of local rock shrimp and sweet lobster on a bed of local greens.IMG_6030

The emotions surrounding that day make the dish that much more legendary. While the food was undoubtedly delicious, it was the company that made the afternoon so graceful and memorable. Perhaps this dish will not evoke the deepest feelings of love and longing, but it will give your taste buds something to flirt with.

IMG_6043

In its most basic incarnation, a shrimp salad will have, well, shrimp, of course, celery, and a slightly citrusy sauce to hold it all together. But there’s much that can be done to dress this dish up. For starters, instead of using store-bought mayonnaise, this version uses a homemade aioli. If you’re not hip to aioli, it’s a rich and creamy emulsification made with an egg yolk, minced garlic, oil, and a bit of lemon juice. 

You can (and should!) add fresh herbs like chopped tarragon and snipped chives. While the salad you see above is creamy, crunchy, and herbaceous, it also has a pleasing citrusy sweetness thanks to wafer-thin slices of meyer lemon. Unlike a conventional lemon, meyer lemons have a much thinner skin, sweeter flesh, and a faint aroma of fresh thyme. Each slice adds an unexpected burst of cleansing citrus.

Ingredients:

1/2 lb bay shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 tbsp good  mayonnaise (or homemade aioli)

1 tbsp dijon mustard

1 meyer lemon, sliced paper-thin

Fresh chives

crushed red pepper flakes

salt and pepper, to taste

Prep

Heat a sautée pan on medium high. Add 1/2 tsp of olive oil. Pour in the shrimp and let cook for about 1 minute or until just firm. Set shrimp aside to cool. Meanwhile, prep your celery and fresh chives by chopping them finely.

When the shrimp have cooled, add them to a medium bowl with the celery, mayonnaise (aioli, if using) and mustard. Mix until just combined, then add the chives and crushed red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the salad over crisp romaine hearts or atop a toasted croissant. Garnish with more chives and the sliced meyer lemon.

IMG_5984

When it comes to loving japanese food, I was something of a late bloomer. In our town, the only ‘asian’ place was sandwiched between a Food Lion and the New Creations Hair Salon. The General Tso’s, about as American as apple pie, was undoubtedly delicious. At the time, sushi was largely a novelty food. But when I finally ventured into the big city to try what everyone was talking about, I was not so beguiled by the raw fish or fermented soy. Instead, it was the technicolor green salad of seaweed that caught my attention and captured my taste buds. 

IMG_5972

Initially, I didn’t dare try to recreate asian food at home. The whole thing seemed in one sense completely alchemical. But in another, it seemed entirely dependent on the quality and availability of certain ingredients. There was no question as to why I wasn’t trying my hand at Tuna Tartare. At the time, there wasn’t a single grocery store within 200 miles of my home that offered a form of tuna that was not stuffed into a cylindrical metal puck, reeking like the ghost of lunch boxes past. And so, japanese food was something I never really experimented with.IMG_5979

Okay. If I’m being completely honest, there was one time when I tried to make homemade sushi for my then girlfriend (now wife). And now that I’m being fully transparent, I’ll tell you that the results were so disastrous that I question why she ever stayed with me. The rice, the component upon which all good sushi is based, was a culinary paradox: both mushy and crispy at the same time. The shrimp, forsaken and left to boil for nearly ten minutes, was so chewy that it seemed unfit for human consumption. The debacle quite literally left a bad taste in my mouth, and thus, I didn’t dare return to making asian food for the next five years that followed.

IMG_5609

While the wounds of that first experience with sushi thwarted any new ventures in exploring asian food, that didn’t stop me from using decidely asian ingredients here and there. Toasted sesame oil found its way into dressings and sauces, chicken was glazed with miso and green scallions, sriracha swaddled everything in its warm embrace. It was something of an accident when I pulled from the fridge two dense chunks of daikon radish and a bunch of green onions. The sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and shoyu were there for the taking. When I sat down to this very simple dish, the result was something very like that day I stepped into a sushi joint and had my first bite of seaweed salad: there was a moment of quiet pause, followed by a smile.

Ingredients:

daikon radish, matchstick slices (about 3 cups)

1/2 bunch green onions, finely chopped

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Prep

Slice off the outer layer of the daikon radish until the inner white flesh appears. In order to slice the daikon into matchsticks, I begin by standing the daikon up and making long thin downward slices. I then lay these thin slices flat and cut them into long, impossibly thin sticks.

After preparing the daikon, transfer it to a medium bowl and season it with a pinch of coarse salt. Let this sit for 3-5 minutes to allow the salt to pull some moisture out of the radish. Then, with clean hands, firmly press the daikon and drain any excess moisture. The more dry the radish, the better.

To the radish, add the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil and mix well. Then, add the chopped green onion and the red pepper flakes. Serve immediately.