Salad's simply perfect


Each spring for the past few years, I have given a cooking class called simply "Salads, Salads, Salads." Without fail the course is always the most popular of the season. The format remains the same every year; I choose four salads that can be used as first courses, as entrees or as side dishes.

The menu includes one salad with seafood, another with beef or poultry, one that features vegetables and one that highlights fresh fruit. Students tell me repeatedly that they find themselves using these salads over and over again when entertaining during the warm weather months, when lighter fare is in order.

Napa, Shrimp and Snow Pea Salad in Sesame Vinaigrette, a dish I created recently, would be a perfect addition to my cooking-class repertoire. The idea for this original salad came from Amy Mehaffey, one of my talented culinary assistants. She encouraged me to use thinly sliced Napa cabbage, the elongated Chinese cabbage with crisp ivory- and celadon-colored leaves, for this recipe rather than traditional lettuce greens. And, she suggested that coral-hued shrimp and bright-green snow peas would complement the cabbage visually. Together we decided that a sesame vinaigrette made with rice vinegar, soy sauce and dark toasted sesame oil would be the perfect dressing for these ingredients.

This salad works well in varying roles. It could be served in smaller portions to begin a spring or summer dinner party. It would be equally good to offer with a bowl of soup (asparagus or carrot soup comes to mind) and a basket of warm crusty French bread for a luncheon or light supper.

And, at this time of year when celebrations, including graduations, weddings and anniversaries abound, this salad would made a beautiful addition to a buffet table.

This recipe yields 6 servings when used as starter or accompaniment and 4 as a main course, but the ingredients can be doubled or tripled easily to feed a crowd.

Napa, Shrimp and Snow Pea Salad in Sesame Vinaigrette

Serves 6 as a starter or accompaniment, 4 as a main course

6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons dark toasted sesame oil

4 green onions

2/3 pound snow peas, ends trimmed

1 1/2 to 2 pounds large shrimp in shell

1 head Napa cabbage, about 2 1/4 pounds

For vinaigrette, place vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil in nonreactive salad bowl. Cut off roots from green onions and mince white parts and add to dressing. Reserve green stems for garnish.

Cook snow peas in boiling salted water to cover until just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse under cold running water to cool. Pat dry with clean kitchen towel. Set aside.

Shell and devein shrimp, then cook in boiling salted water to cover until pink and curled, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove, drain in colander, and rinse under cold running water to cool. Pat dry and set aside.

Cut off about 4 inches from base of cabbage and discard. Then cut cabbage, crosswise, into 1/2-inch-wide slices.

To assemble salad, place snow peas in bowl with dressing and toss well; remove 1/3 of snow peas and arrange as border on serving platter.

Add shrimp and cabbage to salad bowl. Toss well to coat lightly with dressing. Mound salad on platter. Chop reserved green onion stems on diagonal to make about 2 tablespoons. Sprinkle over salad. Serve immediately.

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