The yin and yang of cooking
A refreshing sauce made with the long, slender Japanese cucumber forms the base for this light spring salad. (Fotolia.com / May 29, 2013)
To me, the same idea applies to food. I find that some of the most exciting dishes to eat are those that combine opposites in perfect balance -- not just hot and cold but also spicy and sweet, tangy and salty, crunchy and soft, and so on. Recipes that offer such contrasts often provide some of the greatest satisfaction, too, pleasing from first sight to last bite. And one big bonus of such yin-yang preparations is that they naturally slow down the eating process, leading those who enjoy them to consume less food. How wonderful it is when delicious food can promote good health as well!
As a perfect example of this idea, allow me to share a recipe for a salad that's especially well-suited to these ever warmer springtime days right now -- my Sea Scallop Salad with Cold Cucumber Sauce. Consider the contrasts it combines. A cool and refreshing sauce made with the long, slender variety of cucumber known as the Japanese cucumber forms a base for hot, quickly pan-seared sea scallops, served with an accompanying salad of mixed leaves. The mild natural sweetness of the cucumber, meanwhile, also contrasts with the touch of spicy red pepper flakes with which the scallops are marinated. Meanwhile, you also get to enjoy the flavor contrasts of nutty sesame oil and tangy rice vinegar in the Asian-inspired dressing. Don't forget, either, the smoothness of the sauce, the crispness of the leaves, and the absolutely tenderness of the barely cooked scallops.
And, of course, there are also the contrasts between the varying colors of the mixed salad greens (purple radicchio, dark-green watercress, pale yellow endive), the pale green of the sauce, and the ivory-toned scallops tinged in the skillet to a golden brown finish. Sounds beautiful, doesn't it?
Equally beautiful for home cooks is how easy this recipe is to prepare. You can make the sauce and the salad dressing in advance. The scallops don't need vary long to marinate, but that can still be done a short while ahead. That advance preparation, in turn, means you need to do only a few minutes of final cooking before you can put an absolutely beautiful and delicious dish on the table -- one that will have everyone who tastes it declaring your mastery as a creative chef. And you don't have to tell them how easy it was.
SEA SCALLOP SALAD WITH COLD CUCUMBER SAUCE
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main course
2 organic green onions, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
Large pinch red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound sea scallops (about 8 large scallops), trimmed of connective tissue, cut in half horizontally
2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
2 cups organic mixed salad greens such as radicchio, endive, and watercress, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
4 tablespoons Chinois Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Cucumber Sauce (recipe follows)