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Lynda Balslev: Layers are for salads, too

Lynda Balslev
Columnist

While simplicity often reigns when making salads, a little attention to how you put them together can make a difference — and not just in presentation, but also in flavor. There’s certainly nothing wrong with combining all of your salad fixings in a bowl and giving them a good toss. Some salads demand a good jumble, such as cheesy Caesar salads or simple green salads. However, if you have a special standout ingredient that you don’t want to submerge in a bowl of greens, or if you prefer a lighter hand in dressing the salad without wilting tender leaves, then layering is the way to go.

Dressing:

When layering a salad, you can ensure that it’s evenly dressed. Simply drizzle the base ingredients, such as your greens or crudites, with just enough dressing to lightly kiss the leaves and disperse with a gentle toss. You will add more dressing once the salad is composed. Layer the remaining ingredients on top and coat with a final light drizzle, and your salad is ready to go. And remember to go lightly when dressing your salad. You can always add more (or pass it once served), but you can’t remove it.

Seasoning and flavoring:

While simplicity often reigns when making salads, a little attention to how you put them together can make a difference — and not just in presentation, but also in flavor.

When proteins are one of your star ingredients, be sure to season them first — don’t rely on the dressing alone to be the flavor agent for pieces of chicken, meat, fish or tofu. Layering also allows you to build in flavor with aromatics, such as snippets of fresh herbs, nuts and seeds, and finely grated citrus zest. Add a little to each layer to flavor and perfume the salad and ensure they’re present in every bite.

This salad has summer written all over it. Shrimp, feta and olives are the star ingredients, mingling with sweet corn, juicy tomatoes and plenty of garden greens. It’s beautiful when presented in a large serving bowl or arranged in individual serving bowls.

Shrimp and Feta Salad

Active Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time

Yield: Serves 4 as a light meal or 6 as a side dish

Shrimp:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 pound large (16/18) shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails intact if desired

Salt

1/2 lemon

Vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 small garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salad:

6 to 8 ounces mixed greens, such as arugula, red leaf, romaine, torn into bite-size pieces

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup fresh corn kernels

1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped, divided

1/4 cup mint leaves, coarsely chopped, divided

12 black olives, such as Kalamata or oil-cured

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Finely grated lemon zest, for garnish

Cook the shrimp:

Heat the oil and red pepper flakes in a skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the shrimp in one layer without overcrowding the pan. Cook until bright coral-pink on both sides and just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer the shrimp to a plate, lightly season with salt and a squeeze of lemon, and cool to room temperature.

Make the vinaigrette:

Whisk the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.

Assemble the salad:

Combine the greens, tomatoes, red pepper, onion, corn, half of the parsley and half of the mint in a large, wide serving bowl. Drizzle about 1/4 cup vinaigrette over the greens (or enough to lightly coat) and toss. Arrange the shrimp over the greens and scatter the olives and feta over the salad. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette to taste. Garnish with the remaining parsley and mint and the lemon zest.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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