If salads were clothing, they’d be mix-and-match separables — nearly any combination of ingredients can become a great salad. It’s just a matter of choosing complementing contrasts: salty/sweet, soft/crunchy, earthy/bright. Those contrasts are what makes each ingredient a noticeable part of the whole.
In this salad, for example, the lettuce is crunchy, but the papaya is soft. The roasted beans are salty and earthy; the papaya is sweet. The shrimp’s creamy character plays off of the chewiness of the green beans. The capers are sharp in a briny kind of way while the lemon juice is sharp in an acidic, bright kind of way. You could just as easily use another soft, sweet fruit in place of papaya (peach, mango, etc.). Instead of shrimp, you could use crab or salmon. Vinegar or lime juice would be a fine stand-in for the lemon juice. Don’t have green beans? Roast corn or bell peppers or asparagus instead. You could even include a cooked whole grain like millet or brown rice to provide a chewy heartiness.
As you can see, salads can be whatever you want them to be. Keep trying new combinations and writing down your favorites — pretty soon you’ll have a salad compendium of your own!
Papaya Shrimp Salad Use whatever proportions you like for as many servings as you like. I used about 1/4 of a papaya per person, along with a handful of beans, three large lettuce leaves, and about 2 ounces of canned tiny shrimp.
Green beans, roasted*
Extra-virgin olive oil
Romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped
Papaya, diced (remove the seeds and skin first and discard them)
Shrimp, either tiny canned shrimp or cocktail shrimp
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
To roast the green beans, first preheat the oven to 375F. Rinse and trim the beans and spread them out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Drizzle the beans with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle them with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Toss them with your fingertips to coat the beans with the seasonings, then roast for about 20 minutes or until the beans are turning golden brown and are getting shriveled.
While the beans are roasting, you can assemble your salad. Either toss together or simply layer the lettuce, papaya, and shrimp. Scatter a small spoonful of capers and a sprinkling of dill over each salad serving, then dress with a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil. Top with the roasted beans and serve promptly.
* Feel free to roast extra beans so that you’ll have enough leftovers to make another creative salad.