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September, 2011

Salad of Shrimp, Avocado, Almonds and Butter Lettuce with a Verjus Blanc Dressing

By Heidi Allison

In this clever, light summer salad, the calories are kept low using puréed whole grapes, rather than oil, for the salad dressing’s foundation
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Organic Grapes
Achieving the same flavor profile of that hard-to –source new “it” ingredient, Verjus, this salad dressing has a delicate balance of fruity sweetness and acidity, which acts as the perfect flavor profile to the shrimp, butter lettuce and creamy avocado. Verjus, which literally means “green juice” in French, is a by-product of the wine industry. It’s produced by pressing unripe grapes to make a sweet, yet tart, non-alcoholic liquid. Used for centuries in Europe and the Middle East as a culinary alternative to harsher-tasting vinegar and lemon juice, Verjus makes an excellent salad dressing, deglazing liquid for roasts and poultry, tenderizing marinade for tough cuts of meat, secret ingredient in sauces, or poaching liquid for sweet and savory dishes. Both red (Cabernet, Merlot or Pinot Noir) and green (Muscato and Riesling) grapes are used to produce Verjus—red verjus has an earthier flavor profile that pairs well with meats, spicy fare and bitter greens, while white verjus has a delicate, crisp, fruity flavor that enhances chicken, fish, shellfish and tender lettuces, such as Butter lettuce. (White Verjus is also the secret ingredient for a killer beurre blanc sauce!)

Although Verjus is readily available in Europe, it’s a difficult ingredient to source in the United States. High-end, specialty wine stores sometimes carry it, and, only three American vineyards manufacture and sell Verjus. In this innovative recipe, I have used easy-to find, seedless green Thompson’s grapes and white balsamic vinegar to mimic the sweet/tart flavor profile of white Verjus. Another advantage of using the whole fruit instead of the pressed juice in a salad dressing is a thicker texture is achieved in the finished product, which allows you to reduce the traditional amount of oil from 1/3 cup to 1 tablespoon—a savings of 520 calories! And, it does so without compromising taste.

Salad of Shrimp, Avocado, Almonds and Butter Lettuce with a Verjus Blanc Dressing
Salad of Shrimp, Avocado, Almonds and Butter Lettuce with a Verjus Blanc Dressing
Serves: 4 as a side; 2 as an entrée

Verjus Blanc Salad Dressing:
Makes: 1 cup

1 heaping cup of seedless green grapes
1 Tbsp. white Balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. flake kosher salt
1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil

Preparation:
Place grapes, vinegar, mustard, salt, and shallot in a food processor. Pulse until a puree forms; then drizzle grapeseed oil in a thin stream into puree with the motor running until incorporated. Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 8 hours to allow the flavors to develop and “marry”.

Salad:
8 large white Mexican shrimp, peeled and deveined
Zest of 1 lemon
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 head butter lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 Hass avocado, halved and seeded; then cut lengthwise into ¼-inch slices
1 package (1.75 oz.) organic micro greens, washed and dried

Shrimp Preparation:
In a 2-quart pot, add 2 cups of water, thyme and the zest of 1 lemon. Heat on medium-high heat until water just comes to a simmer; then add shrimp. Turn off heat and let shrimp poach in the liquid for 6 minutes. Remove shrimp to a plate and allow to cool. Cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours to chill. Salad Assembly: In a large bowl, place butter lettuce and micro greens. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of dressing over greens and toss till lightly coated. Place lettuce on a chilled plate and top with shrimp, avocado and nuts. Drizzle an additional 1 tablespoon over salad and serve. Notes from the Author: This dressing can also be made with a variety of herbs added—thyme or tarragon lend an innovative twist to fish and seafood salads. Use as listed in the recipe, but add pears, roasted pistachios and blue cheese over endive for an updated twist to the iconic Pear and Gorgonzola salad.