Summer's here and the time is right for summer salads gussied up with light proteins. Boiled shrimp is the perfect candidate, especially when it's paired with orange, avocado and mint, as it is here.
There is a problem, however; shrimp often becomes bland and chewy when it's boiled. In fact, all proteins, not only shrimp, tend to turn tough when they're subjected to the violence of boiling water. And if the boiling water isn't well-salted, the protein in question will end up flavorless and tough.
At first, I tried to avoid these pitfalls by gently simmering the shrimp. This resulted in a modest improvement. Then — eureka! — I decided to take a cue from my favorite new way to make a hard-boiled egg, which is not to boil it at all, but to steam it instead. The result was amazing. Steamed shrimp is much tenderer than boiled shrimp. As for the flavor, I amped it up by making sure the water was heavily salted.
Steaming the shrimp cooks them thoroughly in 2 minutes or so, depending on their size. Then you chill them briefly in ice water to stop the cooking and pat them dry. Now they're ready to go.
The dressing for this salad was inspired by various Asian cuisines: reduced fresh orange juice flavored with ginger, sesame oil and chili paste. It requires only 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, making it very light.
I have further outfitted the salad with avocado, fresh orange slices and toasted peanuts. But feel free to swap in the vegetables of your choice (shredded carrots, perhaps, or sliced cucumbers) and your favorite nuts. Or leave out the nuts altogether.
This light salad will cool you off on a hot summer night — and delight your taste buds in the process.
SHRIMP, AVOCADO AND ORANGE SALAD WITH SPICY ORANGE DRESSING
Start to finish: 1 hour (45 active)
For the sauce:
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (unseasoned)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably grapeseed
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste with garlic (or your favorite hot sauce)
For the salad:
1 pound medium shrimp (26-30 count), peeled and deveined
2 small heads butter lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 naval orange, peel and pith removed and cut into sections
1 firm ripe avocado
1 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1/3 cup toasted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped scallion, white and light green part
Make the sauce: In a very small saucepan simmer the orange juice until it is reduced to 1/2 cup. Transfer it to a bowl and whisk in the remaining ingredients. Add salt to taste and chill while you cook the shrimp.
Fill a large saucepan with enough well-salted water to come just up to the bottom of a collapsible steamer. Cover and bring to a full boil. Reduce to a medium boil and carefully add the shrimp to the steamer basket (if your steamer basket isn't large enough, cook the shrimp in two batches). Make sure the level of the water is just below the steamer and the water doesn't touch the shrimp. Cover the saucepan and steam the shrimp for 2 minutes. Take a shrimp out, cut it in half and if the center is still translucent, return it to the pan for 30 seconds. Immediately transfer the shrimp to a bowl of ice and water and let it cool completely. Remove and pat dry.
To assemble the salad: Line four bowls with the lettuce, mound the remaining ingredients in the center and drizzle the salad generously with the sauce.
Nutrition information per serving: 331 calories; 181 calories from fat; 20 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 143 mg cholesterol; 941 mg sodium; 19 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 20 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton is host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "HomeCooking 101."