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Review of Simply Salads by Jennifer Biggs
April 18, 2007
By Jennifer Chandler

Salad solutions

Memphian Chandler gives light fare a little weight with shrimp, bacon, other goodies

By Jennifer Biggs

April 18, 2007

We cooks are such predictable culinary creatures. A nip in the air each fall and we all scurry for our favorite chili pot. Give us a warm spring breeze and we make a beeline for the produce market. And there's no fresher way to serve up the season's bounty than in a salad.

In her new cookbook "Simply Salads" (Rutledge Hill Press, $24.99), Memphian Jennifer Chandler shows us how easy making a meal from a salad really is.

"Everything starts with a bag of lettuce," she says.

The concept for the book came from a contest held by editors at Rutledge Hill Press. The bagged salad idea won, and one of the editors contacted Memphis cookbook packager Ellen Rolfes Stauffer, whose 2005 book "Graceland's Table" was published by Rutledge.

She recommended Chandler submit a proposal.

"I thought of her because I consider her to be one of the most creative minds in food to come along in a long time," Stauffer said. "She just has such a fresh voice."

Stauffer (who recently married) owns Ellen Rolfes Books, a company that's put together cookbooks including "A Gracious Plenty" by John T. Edge, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority's "Occasions to Savor," and "The Church Ladies' Divine Desserts" by Brenda Rhodes Miller.

"She's been a mentor to me over the past couple of years," said Chandler, 36.

She submitted a package in December 2005 and had the book ready to go just six months later.

"All I did was eat lettuce for six months," she said.

Most of the recipes are original, although many will be familiar to locals because they're inspired by restaurant dishes.

One of Chandler's favorite salads is the Chinese chicken salad with peas, which is based on one she had at P.F. Chang's.

"It's tasty, it's colorful, it has crunch and it can be made in five minutes, using rotisserie chicken," Chandler said.

The Margarita chicken salad is based on one from Automatic Slim's, and the black and blue chicken salad is similar to one at David-Kidd's Broente Cafe.

"What I'd do is go home from a restaurant after I'd eaten something I liked, remember what I tasted and start playing in the kitchen," she said.

Chandler, who owned Cheffie's Market and More in East Memphis and is a freelance writer (she has a weekly column in The Commercial Appeal's Food section), graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. The warm goat cheese salad is inspired by one of her favorite lunches there.

Other recipes came from friends and family, and some, like the warm fingerling potato salad, were prompted by thumbing through old cookbooks.

"I saw a recipe in an old French cookbook, out of print, not even written in English, and it inspired that one," said Chandler.

Her mother, Barbara Hanemann, and friends Ashley Woodman, Allyson James and Nick and Jenny Vergos contributed recipes -- the latter appropriately offering the BBQ pulled pork salad that uses a mustard cole slaw like the one served at The Rendezvous.

Chandler relies on numerous salad blends, all of which are explained and pictured in the book. They're also all available locally.

"Everything is available here, because I want everything in the book to be accessible to everyone," she said. "If an ingredient wasn't available in Memphis, then it's not available in most of the country."

Some of the blends she uses are hearts of romaine, which is just the inner leaves; baby spinach; the slightly bitter baby arugula; spring mix; and slaw mixes like broccoli slaw (which Chandler uses in place of florets for the popular deli broccoli-raisin salad), angel hair slaw, three-color deli slaw and shredded red cabbage.

Many are interchangeable. Triple hearts, a mix of romaine, green leaf and butter lettuces, can be used in place of romaine hearts, for example. The Mediterranean and Italian mixes are similar, as are the sweet baby greens and the spring mix.

These are the mixes that you see in bags and clamshell packages in virtually every grocery in town. They're triple-washed, and despite the recent spinach scare, Chandler believes the greens are safe to eat from the bag.

"It's all pre-washed in a special wash and packaged in a special bag to help keep it fresh," she said. "You should always store your lettuce in its original package."

The packages are made to "breathe," so that the lettuce doesn't get water-logged and begin to decay.

She picked up a few tips during her six-month salad marathon:

"Don't buy a mix with less than three days left to the expiration date," she said.

"And look it over. The bags are clear so you can see what's inside. If you see wilted lettuce or slimy spots, then it means that it was mishandled. Don't buy it."

All of the recipes include a dressing recipe or a recommendation from the dressing section of the book.

And a tip accompanies each recipe. Don't want to use a raw egg in your dressing? Substitute a tablespoon of mayonnaise instead. Can't find ricotta salata? Feta cheese is the best stand-in.

It's all about making dinner time fresh and simple.

"I'm a working mother," Chandler said. "Everything has to be do-able. It has to be easy."

--Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223

Book signings

Upcoming book signings for "Simply Salads"

Saturday, 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. at Babcock's Gifts, 4626 Poplar

May 14 at 6 p.m. at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, 387 Perkins Ext.

May 18-19 at Lansky's in The Peabody hotel, 4-6 p.m. both days, 149 Union Ave.

June 7 at 5 p.m. at Square Books in Oxford, Miss., 160 Courthouse Square

Shrimp Stir-fry Salad

For the Thai dressing:

2 tbsp. dark brown sugar

1 tsp. finely grated lime zest

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 Thai chili pepper or serrano pepper, seeded (if desired), and minced

2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves removed and very thinly sliced

1 shallot, halved and thinly sliced

3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro

For the salad:

1 tbsp. peanut oil (or canola oil if allergic)

1 tbsp. red Thai curry paste

1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and halved lengthwise

12 cherry tomatoes, stems removed and halved

1/4 cup scallions, sliced 1/2 -inch long on the diagonal

1 bag (11.4 oz.) Asian salad blend

To make the dressing: In a small bowl whisk together the brown sugar, lime zest, and lime juice until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the chili pepper, lemongrass, shallots, and cilantro.

To make the salad: In a wok over medium-high heat, warm the oil and the curry paste, stirring often, until fragrant. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until opaque throughout, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside to cool.

Add the tomatoes and the scallions to the shrimp. Add 1/2 of the dressing to taste and gently toss.

Place the salad blend in a large salad bowl. Add the remaining dressing to taste and gently toss.

Divide the salad blend among the plates. Generously spoon the shrimp mixture on top. Serve immediately. Makes 4 dinner salads.

Note: Lemongrass is a perennial herb that, until recently, was grown mostly in Southeast Asia. It offers a light and refreshing lemony flavor. Thanks to the growing popularity of Thai food, it is now available in many supermarkets. If you can't find it, substitute 1 tbsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Asparagus, Roasted Red Pepper and Arugula Salad

For the white balsamic and grainy mustard vinaigrette:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. whole-grain Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For salad:

1 bunch (about 1 lb.) asparagus, tough woody ends snapped off and discarded

1 package (5 oz.) baby arugula salad blend

1 roasted red bell pepper, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)

1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar and mustard. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the salad: Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until vibrant green and crisp tender, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Drain the asparagus and immerse in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain again and place in a large bowl.

On each plate, place a bed of arugula. Layer the asparagus on top. Arrange the peppers on top of the asparagus. Generously drizzle with the vinaigrette to taste. Garnish with olives and red onion. Makes 4 appetizer servings.

Note: The coarse seeds in whole-grain mustard add texture and a depth of flavor to traditional Dijon mustard. Despite being similar in appearance, the French-style whole-grain mustard has a more delicate flavor than spicy Creole mustard. Dijon mustard is the proper substitute.

Cheese Tortellini Salad with Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette

For the sun-dried tomato vinaigrette:

1/4 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

4 tsp. balsamic vinegar

4 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 small garlic clove, minced

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

1 package (9 oz.) fresh three-cheese tortellini (available in the refrigerated pasta section)

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 bag (10 oz.) Italian salad blend

1/4 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips

5 fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin strips

For the vinaigrette: Place the sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, and garlic in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Gradually add the oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the salad: Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, according to package instructions, about 10 minutes. Drain and run under cold water until cool. Drizzle with oil and toss to evenly coat to prevent sticking. Tear the lettuce blend into bite-size pieces and place in a large salad bowl. Add the tortellini and sun-dried tomatoes. Toss with the vinaigrette, to taste, until coated. Garnish with the basil. Makes 4 dinner salads.

Note: If you can only find dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes, no problem. Just reconstitute them in boiling water as per the package directions.

Warm Fingerling Potato Salad with Bacon and Croutons

For the garlic vinaigrette:

1/2 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste or minced

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

1/4 cup garlic vinaigrette

1 lb. small fingerling potatoes, cleaned

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 thin baguette (8 oz.), thinly sliced

8 slices of bacon

1 bag (10 oz.) field greens salad blend

For the garlic vinaigrette: Place the garlic in the bottom of a small bowl. Blend in the mustard and vinegar. Slowly add the oil in a stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the salad: Fill a large pot with salted water. Add potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil until a few water droplets sizzle in the pan. Cook the bread slices, stirring often, until golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer croutons to a paper towel lined plate to drain. In the same pan, cook the bacon, turning as needed, until crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate to drain; keep warm.

Place the warm potatoes in a large salad bowl and add the dressing to taste. Toss to coat well. Then add salad blend and toss gently. Tear bacon into 1-inch pieces and add to the salad along with the croutons. Serve immediately. Makes 4 dinner or 6 appetizer salads.

Note: Fingerlings are narrow finger shaped heirloom potatoes. A longtime secret of restaurant chefs, these tender potatoes have a rich and buttery flavor unlike any other potato variety. Yukon Gold potatoes or red new potatoes are good substitutes.

All recipes: "Simply Salads," Jennifer Chandler

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