Eric Akis: Stately dinner salad fit for mom

Eric Akis

It’s Mother’s Day, and sons (and daughters) here, there and everywhere will be giving their moms extra-special attention today. For those whose mothers have passed, the day will be more about reflecting and thinking about the woman who raised and loved them.

I’m in the latter category, and in this column, over the years, I have shared stories about my late French-Canadian mother, Julie. That included a story I wrote on Mother’s Day last year, where I consulted my three brothers about the dishes she cooked for us when we were growing up. I then shared some of those mostly comfort-food tales with you.

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This year, to pay tribute to mother, I thought I would offer a recipe for one of her favourite dishes, something splendid that I would serve her today if I were blessed to still have her around.

When deciding what to make, I had a problem. I could not remember what some of her favourite foods were and there was a reason for that. You see, my mother was the type of mother who always made sure that all family members were fed first. In my mind, I can still see her fussing around in the kitchen organizing dessert while my dad and my brothers and I were seated at the dinner table already scarfing down dinner.

She also always cooked foods she knew we would like. I’m sure she liked them, too, but her goal was more about pleasing her hungry group of men, rather than herself.

That continued when I was an adult and I moved away from Thunder Bay, where she lived, and came home to visit her. I would walk into her apartment and the first thing she would ask me is:“What would I like to eat?”

But, I now recall, when visiting her once, I showed up at her door unannounced and she was making herself lunch. In culinary terms, you would call what she was making a composed salad. A salad whose ingredients are artfully arrange on the plate, rather than being tossed together.

The feature ingredient in that salad was small, cooked salad shrimp, which came from a can. I now remember my mother really enjoying those shrimp and making sure to include several cans of them in the Christmas parcel I sent to her each year.

When making her salad, she set those shrimp on a bed of lettuce and then surrounded them with complementary items she had on hand. They included hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, carrots, celery, radishes and green onion. In very French fashion, rather than drizzle a salad dressing over her salad, she simply put a large dollop of mayonnaise on it.

That salad reminded of the types of main-course salads I saw served at sidewalk cafés in the south of France, when I visited there.

In my version of that salad below, rather than use canned shrimp, I used the fresh, cooked B.C. salad shrimp you can find for sale at many supermarkets. I also added some blanched spears of B.C. asparagus. And last, I have given you the option to serve the salad with store-bought or homemade mayonnaise.

I think my mother would have approved of the tweaks I made to her salad. It’s a salad that would be nice to enjoy on a warm sunny day out on your patio, balcony or deck.

To all who qualify: Happy Mother’s Day!

Shrimp Dinner Salad

This colourful, shrimp-and-vegetable topped main-course salad is simply dressed with a nice dollop of tangy mayonnaise.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: Two servings

6 to 8 asparagus spears, stems trimmed

1/2 large head butter lettuce, separated into single leaves

200 to 250 grams cooked salad shrimp

1 medium to large ripe, on-the-vine tomato, cut in 10 to 12 thin wedges

4 to 6 radish, trimmed and halved lengthwise

2 hard-boiled eggs, each quartered

1 large green onions, sliced

1 medium celery rib, sliced

1/3 to 1/3 cup carrot, cut into thins strips

• store-bought or homemade mayonnaise (see recipe below), to taste

2 lemon wedges, for garnish

Fill a pot, wide enough to hold the asparagus, with three inches of water, set over high heat, and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and boil until bright green and just tender, about two minutes. Drain the hot water from the pot, and then cool the asparagus with ice-cold water. Lift the asparagus out of the water and set on paper towel.

Divide and arrange the lettuce on two dinner plates. Mound an equal amount of shrimp in the centre of each salad. Artfully place the asparagus, tomato, radish, egg, celery, and carrot around the shrimp. Sprinkle the salads with green onion. Garnish each salad with a lemon wedge and serve with the mayonnaise, for dolloping on the salads.

Small Homemade Mayonnaise

Dollop this homemade version of the famous French sauce on today’s shrimp salad recipe (see Note).

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: About 1/2 cup

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 cup regular olive oil, peanut oil or vegetable oil

2 tsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste

1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

Set a damp tea towel on a work surface. Now set and nestle a medium sized bowl on the towel. (The tea towel should help prevent the bowl from sliding around when you make the mayonnaise.) Place egg yolk and mustard in the bowl and whisk until blended.

Using a 1/4 tsp measure, while whisking constantly, gradually dribble and mix in the oil. Once you’ve added about 1/4 of the oil this way, you can gradually begin to very slowly drizzle in the remaining oil in a narrow stream.

Adding all of the oil will take a few minutes, but it’s OK to take a break if needed to rest your arm as long as the mayonnaise is holding together. Once all the oil is added, mix in the lemon juice and salt. Transfer mayonnaise to tight-sealing container, cover and refrigerate until needed. Use mayonnaise within two days.

Note: As I noted in previous story, according to Marie Simmons’ award-winning book, The Good Egg, there’s a slight risk of bacterial growth from sauces such as mayonnaise made with raw egg yolks. But Simmons says they can be minimized if you observe safe-handling practices and precautions. Simmons says to use the freshest eggs you can get for mayonnaise. They should have ultra-clean shells, be crack-free and be kept refrigerated. Simmons adds that you should never serve a sauce made with raw eggs to someone who is elderly, very young, pregnant or has a weakened immune system.

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

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