Scallops are the perfect summertime food — light, yet filling, flavorful, but also versatile enough to pair with all sorts of foods. In this case, with salad.
I call for sea scallops here, which are available all summer long. But make sure to confirm that the bivalves in question are "dry" scallops or "day boat" scallops. Both terms guarantee that the scallops were harvested and brought right to market. Too often scallops are harvested at sea, shucked, and tossed into a wet solution containing phosphates, where they sit for days before making it to market.
That solution preserves the scallops, but it also pumps them up with water. This means that you're paying for that liquid when you buy them by weight, and that they'll weep liquid and steam in the pan, instead of browning. This makes for a tough scallop, and you want them tender.
For this recipe, I dip the scallops in flour before they're sauteed to give them a little crunch. If you can find Wondra flour at the supermarket, grab it on sight and keep it in the cupboard for recipes like this. A venerable brand, Wondra was the flour my grandmother Ruth used to thicken gravies. It is a low-protein flour that has been treated (precooked) so it dissolves instantly in water without lumping up. (That's what makes it wondra-ful.) The side benefit of Wondra is that it provides a nice little crunch you wouldn't get if you coated your scallops with all-purpose flour.
This salad sports my version of the carrot-ginger dressing that's standard at Japanese restaurants, which I've always found to be a delicious and refreshing change from oil and vinegar. As advertised, it's based on raw carrot, then flavored with fresh ginger and toasted sesame oil. My version also features a little hot sauce. I don't believe that's in the classic version, but I like it as a way to counterbalance the natural sweetness of the carrot.
This recipe yields a big batch of the dressing, about 1 1/4 cups, which is more than you'll need for the salad. However, it'll last for several days, and is easily repurposed to grace chicken, fish, pork and grilled vegetables, not to mention a plain green salad. If you don't have seasoned rice vinegar in the cupboard, just use plain rice vinegar and add a hefty pinch of sugar and a little salt to the dressing.
One note about the sesame oil: Be sure to store it in your refrigerator, along with all other nut and seed oils and all nuts and seeds. These items go rancid quickly.
I round out this salad with a couple of other welcome summertime ingredients: cucumbers and mango. The greens are arugula, which I tend to favor in all seasons because of its peppery bite. Of course, spinach would be perfect here, as would any of your favorite greens. Just keep in mind that, in general, the darker the green, the more nutritious it is.
Finally, if you're not a fan of scallops, you can always swap in shrimp, chicken, pork or even tofu. Consider this recipe a template for dozens of variations.
WARM SCALLOP SALAD WITH CARROT-GINGER DRESSING
The dressing will make about 1 1/4 cups, but this salad will need only about 1/2 up. Refrigerate the rest for use on grill chicken, fish, pork or grilled vegetables.
Start to finish: 40 minutes
1 cup chopped carrot
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 scallions, sliced, white and green parts kept separate
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 to 4 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
1/4 cup water
1 pound sea scallops, tough muscle discarded and scallops patted dry
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup Wondra flour (or all-purpose)
6 cups arugula
2 cups chopped cucumber
1 mango (or 2 peaches or nectarines), peeled, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup toasted peanuts
In a blender, combine the carrot, ginger, white parts of the scallions, rice vinegar, soy sauce, chili-garlic sauce, sesame oil, 1/4 cup of the vegetable oil and the water. Puree until very smooth. Set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper, dip them lightly in the flour, coating them on both sides and shaking off the excess, then add them to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the scallops until they are just cooked through, about 2 to 4 minutes per side (depending on the size of the scallops).
Divide the arugula, cucumbers and mango among 4 salad bowls. Top the salads with the scallops, scallion greens and peanuts, then drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the dressing over each salad. Serve right away.
Nutrition information per serving of salad (without dressing): 330 calories; 130 calories from fat (39 percent of total calories); 14 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 35 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 27 g protein; 510 mg sodium.
Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons of dressing: 70 calories; 60 calories from fat (86 percent of total calories); 6 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 0 g protein; 140 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."