White Bean, Asparagus, and Sesame-Crusted Shrimp Salad

Not every one falls in love with Paris, but I find that those who do are hooked for life.  Whether it happens over a café crème on a sunny terrace or during a never-ending picnic rife with cheap red wine and crunchy baguettes, this city is capable of leaving you mesmerized, walking through the charming streets as if in a daydream.   And while living here may be just a fantasy, an image of a life I want to believe I’m leading (I recommend watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris to get a better idea of what I’m talking about), there are certain rituals I have come to adopt that remind me that, even if Paris embodies a city that is bordering fantasia, there are still many things, mostly in food form, that capture my heart and remind me that true talent and beauty lies in the heart of the city.  One such ritual is enjoying lunch at le Comptoir, undoubtedly one of my favorite restaurants in Paris and likely the favorite of many other frequenters.  While it’s almost not worth going for dinner as it requires a reservation six months in advance, if you arrive on the early side (12pm sharp) for lunch you can enjoy a lovely table on the sunny terrace.  This is precisely what I do when I want to enjoy a refreshing glass of white wine and the best salad I’ve ever had in my life, the Salad Niçoise.  I assume you’ll immediately tell me that you don’t like Salad Niçoise, because it is boring or bland, or that you don’t like anchovies.  But, my dear reader, I felt the same way before trying this salad, which has changed my life and made me think about the perfect harmony of a salad in a new way.

I am grateful to this salad niçoise, not only for making my stomach and eyes extremely happy, but additionally for reminding me that salads don’t need to be light or boring to be enjoyed.  They can be a scene for extreme experiences: marriages of flavor that develop and change with each bite.  Dig around the plate to find a little bit of egg or some crispy caramelized onions that will forever change your next bite from your last.  Although the salad that I’m posting today has nothing to do with a nicoise salad, it was with this appreciation for the greener side of life that I hoped to present to you a salad that is at once hearty, healthy, and complex.  This is essentially a new version of a shrimp and arugula salad that I have been making for a while.  Because it’s springtime and the fruits and vegetables are at the beginning of their glorious high season, I had to include roast asparagus, which for me is one of the easiest springtime things to make and can be tossed with just about anything: in a frittata, with pasta, or just roasted and eaten in its pure form. 

If you have to buy more asparagus than the recipe calls for, I would recommend either saving the remainder and using them at a later time (they will keep for up to 5 or 6 days in tupperware in your fridge), or roasting all of them and eating the remaining asparagus as a snack over the next few days.  Roast asparagus is something I would liken to roast sweet potatoes, in the sense that both of these ingredients change personality entirely to acquire a salty, almost creamy air about them once exiting the hot oven.  Needless to say I’m a huge fan.  Also, don’t forget to remove the ends of the asparagus which are not tender enough to be eaten: take each asparagus in your hands and snap it in two – the asparagus will naturally break where it is no longer tender.

I of course added shrimp because I am a seafood lover jusqu’au bout, and fresh, large, jumbo shrimp can make a cameo on my dinner plate any day.  The addition of sesame seeds adds a nice extra dimension of saltiness and protein (and it’s really easy to put together, I promise!) which pairs very well with the sautéed basil.

Lastly, if you decide that you would like to try to make the shallot/shrimp medley but you don’t care for the lettuce or roast asparagus, I would recommend removing the tails off the shrimp, cutting them into bite-size pieces, and eating them in a burrito with sliced avocado and sour cream or on toasts.  And now I’m hungry once again.

White Bean, Asparagus, and Sesame-Crusted Shrimp Salad – serves 1
 
For the asparagus:
6 to 8 stalks of green asparagus, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or sunflower oil
coarse sea salt
 
For the Salad:
1/2-cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 jumbo shrimp, peeled, heads removed and tails left on
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 handful fresh basil, thinly sliced
1 lemon
1/2-cup white beans
2 large handfuls arugula
 
To cook the asparagus:
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425° F. Line a baking sheet that is large enough to hold all the asparagus flat with tin foil. Add all the ingredients and toss thoroughly with your hands to combine.
2. Roast in the oven until crispy yet tender, about 12-15 minutes.
3. Once cool enough to handle, cut into matchstick-sized pieces and set aside. If there is any oil remaining on the baking sheet, set it aside to add to the sauce
 
To prepare the salad:
1. In a shallow bowl or dish, spread out the sesame seeds.
2. Toss the shrimp with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cayenne pepper, and salt; pass the oiled shrimp through the sesame seeds to coat.
3. In a large skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced shallot, and cook, stirring occassionally, until softened, about 6 minutes.
4. Turn the heat to medium- high, add the shrimp, and cook until shrimp are cooked through, about 2 minutes on each side.
5. Add the juice from half of the lemon (or more if necessary, you want to make a sauce). Remove from heat, add the basil slivers, and toss to combine. Add any remaining oil from the roast asparagus.
6. Place the arugula and white beans on a plate. Top with shrimp and shallot sauce. Add additional lemon juice or olive oil as neccesary, and season with salt and pepper.