Let us now take a moment to sing the praises of spring in the Midwest…I’m talkin’ lush green grasses; a thick canopy of elm and ash trees, heavy with verdant foliage; sunny blue skies with puffy white clouds; birds building their nests, feeding their young and singing their little hearts out; tornadoes and torrential rains, hail the size of golf balls and mosquitos that swarm like buzzards. Yes, spring in Nebraska is a perfect time for taking your life in your hands and sitting barefoot on the porch on a sunny warm evening with a luscious shrimp salad and a cool glass of chardonnay at hand.
Here in these parts, June is without a doubt the best month of the year. Spring doesn’t really fully arrive until June, and when it does, it means it. Coming from Southern California, we’re still getting used to all of this. June in that fair state is when the hills and grasses begin to turn brown in preparation for summer, which is when that end of the state is mostly on fire. But June can be overly exciting here as well. Tonight, for example, they’re predicting the typical torrential rains, damaging hail and possible tornadoes.
But when we’re not being scared spitless by the weather reports, June is an idyllic month and the evenings are made for sitting out on the porch soaking it all up. It was an evening such as this a couple of weeks ago that inspired me to create this salad of deliciously roasted shrimp and just about every sort of Mediterranean-ish ingredient that I could pull out of my pantry and fridge. It turned out to be spectacularly delicious and I thought I’d share it with you just in case you, too, are enjoying beautiful spring weather there.
As I mentioned, the salad was impossibly good, but I have to tell you that it was partly because I had just cooked up some chickpeas the day before. From dried-up little beans.
It’s a wonder to me how something so shrivelly and unappealing could cook up something this magically delicious. So to be honest, this salad was born not only from a warm evening that was begging for a salad kind of dinner, but also a bowl of freshly-cooked chickpeas that deserved a beautiful vehicle to show off their deliciousness.
Let me start by saying that I love chickpea garbanzos. I always keep cans of them on hand to add to whatever I can think to add them to. But I had no idea. I really had no idea that cooking up chickpeas from their dried state would make such a difference and be so good. I don’t even remember now what prompted me to do it, but let me just tell you that freshly cooked chickpeas are the bomb. They have a richer flavor, like they taste more like themselves, and they’re more tender than canned, which I still love, by the way.
But back to this salad…whether you use canned chickpeas or beautifully tender, fresh-cooked ones, this is a gorgeously delicious salad that can be made for a side dish or most definitely stand in as a meal on its own. With a fresh loaf of yeasty bread, a glass of wine and a warm summer evening, I can think of worse ways to ride out a Midwest springtime thunderstorm. Here's the recipe...
Mediterranean Shrimp Salad with Artichoke Hearts and Chickpeas
While this is mostly a recipe about scrumptious roasted shrimp and fresh Mediterranean ingredients, it's also about freshly cooked chickpeas (or garbanzo beans). I've only recently discovered how much better they are when cooked up from their dried form. They have a richer chickpea flavor and are more tender than canned. Of course you can most certainly use canned chickpeas in this salad and it will still be delicious. But I hope you'll try cooking up your own batch of fresh chickpeas (instructions are at the bottom of the recipe). Go ahead and cook up the whole pound bag, the leftovers make awesome hummus.
1/2 lb raw, medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups cooked chickpeas (see headnote)
1 ½ cups of sliced artichoke hearts
2/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
2/3 cup sliced kalamata olives
2 or 3 sliced green onions
5 or 6 asparagus spears
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley for serving
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place an oven rack near the top of the oven. Place the shrimp on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast the shrimp for about 5-6 minutes, or until just turning pink. Do not overcook. Set aside to cool.
In a medium-sized skillet, bring a couple of inches of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the asparagus spears. Simmer the asparagus for about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan, rinse with cool water and slice into 2-inch lengths.
In a large-ish bowl, combine the salad ingredients, including the shrimp and sliced asparagus. Drizzle with the dressing, using only as much as you need to lightly coat the salad. Taste for salt before serving.
To serve, line a serving platter with leaves of romaine lettuce and place the salad in the center of the platter. Sprinkle the salad with the chopped parsley. If desired, scoop bites of the salad onto the lettuce leaves.
To cook up your own chickpeas:
For one pound, which makes about six cups of cooked chickpeas...
The night before you plan to cook them, place them in a bowl with about 4-6 cups of water and let them soak overnight.
In the morning, drain the beans, rinse them, and place them in a heavy pot with 3-4 cups of water. Bring them to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium simmer, partially cover the pot and let the cook for about an hour and fifteen minutes. About 45 minutes into the cooking time, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt to the water. Stir and continue cooking. After they've been cooking an hour and fifteen minutes, test one or two of the beans and if they're soft, drain them and let them cool. If they still have a bit of bite to them, continue cooking until they're soft and yielding. You can use them right away or store them in the refrigerator for up to a week. I have also frozen them at this point which works great too for longer storage.