I have strict requirements when it comes to a salad being an acceptable meal. Requirements that won’t cause a hunger induced snack attack 30 minutes after eating because that dainty salad just didn’t quite do it for me.
There must be a protein– and please no, tofu or beans as the sole source.
There must be cheese – any kind will do.
There must be a crunchy element – crunch is key.
And there must be, for lack of a better word, lots and lots of stuff.
Of course all of the “stuff” need not be piles of bacon, giant hunks of blue cheese or deep fried pieces of chicken- although I wouldn’t turn those down. “Stuff” can be piles of grilled chicken, a sprinkling of goat cheese, slivered almonds, loads of veggies or even copious amounts of bright red berries.
This particular salad includes protein in the form of plump grilled shrimp; cheese in the form of parmesan frico; and crunch in the form of crisp polenta croutons – all making for a pretty killer salad if I do say so myself.
This salad does come with a very small disclosure – it’s not exactly a toss-some-lettuce-together-drizzle-with-store-bought-dressing kind of a salad. It requires love. It requires patience. And it requires you to be at peace with a few easy, but necessary steps to salad perfection. While none of it is particularly labor intensive, I could see how it might scare a few people away.
BUT don’t be scared, just because we all have this innate idea that salads should be boring, and come to together in five seconds with little prep, that shouldn’t be the case.
Now, really the only portion of this salad that does take a little bit of time are the polenta croutons, but PLEASE don’t skip them, they’re kind of the heart of the salad. You could whip up the polenta earlier in the day (or even the day before), and keep it in the fridge until your ready to cut them into croutons and bake them off. They add this crunchy, but creamy element to the salad that I just love. I may or may not have eaten half the batch before the salad actually got on the table – it happens!
The next key ingredient is the chili grilled shrimp. I’ve had a major thing for shrimp lately, my neighborhood grocery store has had the BEST shrimp I’ve cooked with in a while, and I just keep going back for more. I’ve prepared them as is with just a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper; I’ve turned them into skinny bang bang shrimp; I’ve grilled them with the sweetest scallops; I even foresee some kind of shrimp taco in my near future…
Here I wanted a little extra punch of flavor – since as we’ve covered, salads, for me, must be incredibly flavorful – so I sprinkled it simply with a little bit of chili powder for that extra BAM (channeling my inner Emeril).
Lastly we have the frico, which is probably one of the easiest ways to impress a crowd. While they look uber fancy and hard to make, all you do is bake off little circles of parmesan cheese on a baking sheet (covered in parchment paper or a silt pad, of course), wait until they get pale brown, remove them from the oven, and watch as they magically turn into crisp, addictive I might add, parmesan frico.
A few finishing touches include, plump cherry tomatoes and sweet, yet tangy honey lemon vinaigrette.
Pair with a crusty roll, and you have yourself a perfect healthy weeknight meal, but it would also be great for entertaining since it has the WOW factor that will make dinner guests believe you’ve gotten all fancy on them.
Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I think I see a few leftover polenta croutons calling my name…
- 8 Ounces baby greens
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons +1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup cornmeal
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 small garlic clove, grated
- In a medium saucepan, boil 2 cups water and salt. Slowly whisk in cornmeal. Cook 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Pour onto a baking sheet, making sure the polenta is about ½ inch thick. Cool completely.
- Cut polenta into small squares. Make sure there is no moisture, if needed dry with paper towel.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place grated Parmesan in a large flat circle on a baking sheet covered with parchment or silt pad. Place in oven and cook for 5-7 minutes until pale brown, cool until crisp, break into pieces.
- Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Place cut polenta onto a baking sheet, and bake until crispy and slightly brown, about 15 minutes.
- Heat a grill pan to a high heat. Toss shrimp with 1 teaspoon olive oil and chili powder. Season with salt and pepper. Grill, until bright pink and cooked through, about one minute per side.
- In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice, garlic, mustard and honey. Slowly whisk in remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Assembly: Toss greens with a little salt and pepper. Toss in hot shrimp, croutons, tomatoes and frico. Pour dressing in and toss again.