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NEW ORLEANS -- Salads aren't the first things that come to mind when thinking about food in Cajun Country. But on a recent visit, I encountered lots of stunning versions inspired by local and seasonal produce. Two were simple and unusual enough that I had to re-create them at home.
This salad was a special at Cafe Minh, where chef Cynthia Vu-Tran fuses Vietnamese, Thai and Creole cuisine into a flavorful menu all her own. Fresh crab meat was mixed with diced watermelon, then drizzled with a rich avocado dressing. Served in a martini glass with shrimp chips piled around the stem, it was as fun to eat as it was delicious. Shrimp chips, made from a mix of starch and ground shrimp, deep fried until crispy, are popular throughout Southeast Asia, Great Britain and the Netherlands. Ready-to-eat or fry-your-own versions can be found at most Asian markets.
- 6 ounces good quality lump crab meat
- 2/3 cup seedless watermelon cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1/2 very ripe avocado
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Shrimp chips
If your crab meat is a little wet, wrap it in a kitchen towel and gently squeeze to remove excess moisture. Flake the crab meat into in a medium bowl and gently fold in diced watermelon. Refrigerate while you make the dressing in a small food processor bowl, in a blender or with a whisk.
If you're using a machine, simply blend together the avocado, vegetable oil, lime juice and salt to taste. If making by hand, mash avocado, salt and lime juice with a fork, then whisk in oil until as smooth as possible.
Fold about half of the dressing into the crab mixture. Divide in half and place in small bowls or martini glasses. Drizzle the remaining dressing on top. Serve with shrimp chips.
I ate this salad, along with some wonderful baked oy-sters, shrimp corn bread and deviled crab, at Brigtsen's in Uptown New Orleans. It was a great showcase for local Creole tomatoes and sugar-sweet Vidalia onions, and the Pittsburgh version will get better later in the summer when our tomato season is in full swing. If your Vidalia onion is sharper than you'd like, you can rinse or soak the pieces in cold water, then dry them in a kitchen towel. Brigtsen's used balsamic vinegar and ricotta salata cheese, but I swapped in red wine vinegar and used a goat's milk feta from Riverview Dairy that I had in the fridge.
- 1 cup loosely packed arugula
- 2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes
- 1 ounce thinly shaved Vidalia onion
- 2 ounces ricotta salata or feta, grated
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Salt, pepper
In a small bowl, season the arugula with salt and pepper, then drizzle with a little olive oil, about 1/2 teaspoon. Toss to coat. Divide the arugula in half and lay it out on two salad plates, making a bed for the tomatoes. Cut beefsteak tomatoes crosswise into thick slices, discarding (or eating) the top and bottom slice of each tomato. Put half the slices on each plate, laying them out over the arugula. Season with salt and pepper. Drape Vidalia onion over the tomato slices. Drizzle each plate with about 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar. Top with the grated cheese and serve immediately.