Eric Akis: Prawns, kale, pancetta, chickpeas in caesar-style salad meal

Eric Akis

Weather conditions can certainly affect what you feel like making for dinner.

In my case, cool days in late February and early March made me want to prepare rib-sticking comfort food. But the recent stretch of warm weather now has me craving a main-course salad.

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One of my favourites is a caesar-style salad topped with a protein and other things that make it substantial enough to qualify as dinner.

I say “caesar-style” because I’ll sometime replace the romaine normally used as the base with another type of green, such as the baby kale I used in today’s recipe. It’s a source of vitamin A and C, calcium, fibre and iron, and is sold in tubs at most supermarkets. It’s more tender than mature kale and its earthy flavour marries well with bold-tasting caesar salad dressing.

Another switch-up I made was to replace crunchy croutons with roasted, crispy-when-cooked chickpeas, a source of fibre, vitamin B6, potassium, calcium and niacin.

Chickpeas are also a source of protein, as are the grilled prawns I set on my salad. Before cooking them, I enhanced their flavour by marinating them a short while in olive oil, lemon juice and spices, such as smoked paprika and cumin.

I sometimes add bacon bits to my caesar salad, but, again, to switch things in today’s recipe, I opted to fry up thin slices of pancetta and crumble them on my salad.

Pancetta, now sold at most supermarket delis, is Italian-style bacon that, like regular bacon, is cut from the belly (side) of the pig. A with regular bacon, pancetta is cured, but it’s not smoked. Pancetta is often rolled up in a sausage-like roll that you can buy in thin slices.

The last switch-up I made was that, rather than toss my salad with the dressing, I arranged all the ingredients in shallow servings bowls, then drizzled them with the dressing. Doing that makes the elements in the salad stand out, for a more appealing look.

Kale Caesar Salad with Grilled Prawns, Roasted Chickpeas and Pancetta

Earthy greens, smoky grilled seafood, crunchy chickpeas, crispy Italian-style bacon and a tangy dressing unite in this main-course salad.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: Four to six minutes

Makes: Two servings

For the prawns

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp ground cumin

• pinch ground cayenne pepper

10 large wild prawns, peeled and deveined (see Note)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the oil, juice, paprika, cumin and cayenne in a shallow bowl. Add the prawns and toss to coat. Sprinkle prawns lightly with salt and pepper. Let prawns sit out room temperature and marinate 20 minutes.

To cook, preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Grill the prawns about 90 seconds per side, or until just cooked through (see Eric’s options). Use prawns as directed below. They can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature.

For the salad

4 to 6 thin (about 1/8-inch) slices pancetta (see Eric’s options)

1/2 (5 oz/142 g) tub baby kale (see Eric’s options)

• roasted chickpeas, to taste (see recipe below)

• caesar salad dressing, to taste (see recipe below)

• thinly shaved or freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste

• lemon slices or wedges, to taste, for squeezing

Place pancetta in a single layer in a large skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Fry pancetta until rich golden and crispy, about two to three minutes per side. Drain pancetta on paper towel.

Divide the kale between two shallow serving bowls, mounding it in the centre. Coarsely crumble some pancetta on top of the kale in each bowl. Set some roasted chickpeas and parmesan cheese, to taste, on the kale in each bowl. Now set five prawns on each salad. Drizzle each salad with caesar salad dressing, to taste, garnish with lemon slices or wedges, and serve.

Note: Some stores sell raw prawns already shelled and deveined. If the ones you bought were shell-on, to peel them, hold the tip of tail of a prawn in one hand. Slip the thumb of your other hand under the shell between its swimmerets (little legs). Pull off the shell, but leave the very tip of the tail in place. To devein it, with a small paring knife, make a lengthwise slit along the back of the prawn. Now pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein. Pat prawn dry and it’s ready to use.

Eric’s options: If you don’t eat meat, you could omit the pancetta, or replace it with a vegetarian-style of bacon sold at some supermarkets.

Baby kale is sold in plastic tubs at many supermarkets. If you can’t find it or don’t wish to use it, substitute a similar amount of baby spinach or use four cups or so of chopped romaine.

If you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, you could cook the prawns in a non-stick skillet set over medium-high heat. They should take a similar amount of time to cook.

Caesar Salad Dressing with Capers and Parsley

Here’s a rich and tangy homemade dressing to drizzle on your salad. Any leftover dressing will keep about a week in the fridge.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: About 3/4 cup

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp mayonnaise

1 anchovy, minced, or 1 tsp anchovy paste

1 large garlic clove, minced

2 tsp capers, minced

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp water

1 tsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

• splash or two Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce

• freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place ingredients in a jar and mix well to combine. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasoning, if needed. Cover and refrigerate dressing until needed.

Roasted Chickpeas

Canned chickpeas, rinsed, drained, dried, seasoned and roasted until crispy. They make a nice salad topping.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes

Makes: About one and a quarter cups

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed in cold water, and drained well again

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp ground cumin

• pinch ground cayenne pepper

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set chickpeas on a piece of paper towel. Now gently dry them with another piece of paper towel.

Place chickpeas in a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Set the chickpeas in a single layer on the baking sheet, ensuring you get all the oil and flavourings clinging to the bowl.

Bake the chickpeas 30 to 35 minutes, or until crispy and rich golden brown. Set chickpeas aside until needed for the salad.

Note: If the chickpeas soften in texture after they cool and sit awhile, you can crisp them up again by setting them in a skillet over medium heat a few minutes.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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