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Salads to admire first, then eat

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

They say we first eat with our eyes.

Gastroenterologists may disagree, but we know what is meant: The visual appearance of food is part of the experience of eating it. Often, the better it looks, the better it tastes.

And that may be the reasoning behind a tasty new trend of boxing up salads in see-through containers. It’s like a layered salad — or one of those make-your-own-cookie jars — but in just one portion.

It’s a great way to whet your appetite before you even get your salad on a plate. And there are even some people who just eat the salad in layers out of the container.

The idea of what I call Shake-a-Salad appears to have originated with the folks at Ziploc who, not coincidentally, also developed a clear plastic cylinder in which to put the salad. But anything clear and tallish and straightish will do — a Mason jar, for instance, though there will be a bit of a bottleneck at the top.

There are only a couple of rules to follow when making a Shake-a-Salad. You want to build it with layers of the sturdiest and heaviest items on the bottom, so they don’t crush the more delicate layers. And because the dressing is obviously going to find its way to the bottom, you don’t want to put lettuce there, which will wilt in the dressing, or items such as grains or croutons that will absorb it.

This Pad Thai Salad with Peanut Sesame Dressing was developed by Ziploc specifically to be used in one of these containers. It was created to have a strong visual appeal. It’s so beautiful you’ll almost hate to eat it.

Included are all the ingredients for pad Thai except the one that actually defines the dish, the rice noodles. But the rest is there: chicken, peanuts, scallions, sesame seeds, cilantro and bean sprouts, plus ingredients chosen as much for the way they look as the way they taste — red cabbage, carrots and red bell peppers.

Still, the real star of this salad is the peanut sesame dressing. Thick, hearty and drenched in peanut-sesame flavors, this is a dressing to remember for any number of salads based on lettuce, kale or cabbage. Why, it would even be delicious on a salad served on a plate.

Pad Thai Salad with Peanut Sesame Dressing

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon honey

3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 teaspoon sriracha, optional

1/2 small red cabbage, shredded

1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped or shredded

4 ounces lettuce

2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced

1 cup bean sprouts

2 carrots, peeled into ribbons

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup roasted and salted peanuts

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil until emulsified; then whisk in the peanut butter, honey, tamari and optional sriracha until smooth. Taste and adjust if needed.

Place dressing in the bottom of 4 tall containers. Mix together cabbage and cilantro, and portion this mixture out into each container. Add layers of chicken, lettuce, red peppers, bean sprouts, carrots, scallions, peanuts and sesame seeds. Refrigerate until serving. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 602 calories; 45 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 67 percent calories from fat); 28 g carbohydrates; 14 g sugar; 37 mg cholesterol; 1,113 mg sodium; 29 g protein; 7 g fiber.