Wednesday, April 14, 2010


In 2009 Lake Isle Press published RAISING THE SALAD BAR by Catherine Walthers ($19.95; ISBN: 978-1-891105-33-3). I mention this right at the beginning because in 2010, the publisher has asked me to handle PR duties for Ms. Walthers next book and sent RAISING THE SALAD BAR to me as an introduction to Ms. Walthers' work. I don't review books I work on here at stovetopreadings, so I'm delighted to write about this very special cookbook.

Catherine Walthers is a journalist and food writer who has spent more than fifteen years as a private chef and cooking instructor in the Boston area and on Martha's Vineyard. I don't encounter books that focus on salad very often and when checking to see what is currently available at Amazon. com, I noticed several salad collections from food magazines, Williams-Sonoma, Betty Crocker and other brands. When I opened RAISING THE SALAD BAR, I knew immediately that I was holding a very special collection. First of all, this trade paperback original is gorgeous with it's lovely photographs by Alison Shaw, and is well designed with French flaps and printed on heavy stock. It lays flat on the counter as you cook. And then there are the recipes.

One of the first to catch my eye was Mexican Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad, which I made right away. This is a stellar salad, with roasted cubed sweet potato nicely spiced with coriander, cumin, chili powder and salt It's mixed with black beans, corn kernels, sliced scallions and chopped cilantro and tossed with a superbly flavorful emulsion of chipotle chile (in adobo), garlic, Thai sweet chile sauce, lime juice and canola oil. The dressing had great balance. Just when you think its subtle spiciness might bloom into real heat, that elusive rush quickly dissipated. I served it with simply grilled sweet Italian sausages for a memorable week night meal. The leftovers made a perfect and complete lunch the next. It's a gorgeous-looking salad to bring to the table.

Organized by categories, RAISING THE SALAD BAR does just that. There are salads that pair leafy greens with fruit, such as Baby Spinach and Strawberry Salad or Arugula and Avocado Salad with Shaved Parmesan. There's an extensive chapter on salads featuring chicken, my favorite being Provencal Chicken Salad with Roasted Peppers and Artichokes. There's a main course chapter with meat, including Spicy Thai Steak with Napa Cabbage Salad; a seafood grouping where the Seared Scallops with Watercress and Warm Orange Dressing was a standout. Walthers has chapters featuring potatoes, and a pasta chapter, which not my favorite salad category. However, the Japanese Noodle Salad with Ginger-Soy Vinaigrette is very appealing (because like all the pasta salads here, you dress it just before you serve it). Beans figure prominently in a chapter called Big Beautiful Bean Salads. A Bountiful Italian Bean Salad is a vibrant combination of haricot verts, wax beans, chickpeas and kidney beans brought together with a lemon-lime dressing. And I can't wait to make the Lentil Salad with Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette.

I think the chapter devoted to good grains is what makes RAISING THE SALAD BAR most special. Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus Dressing, Thai Quinoa Salad, Greek Salad with Farro, and Bulgar Salad with Apricot, Radicchio and Parsley, make the most of these lesser known but important grains. Walthers presents appealing salads with wild and long grain rice. I wish there were recipes featuring Italian and/or Spanish short grain rice, as they are particularly adaptable for salad treatment. The book concludes with crunchy slaws and garden vegetable salads along with a chapter on dressings.

Each chapter includes a 101 list of tips and techniques to ensure the best possible results from washing and properly drying lettuces, when to add dressing, and what temperature to serve a salad, to avoiding refrigerating tomatoes, the best way to toss a salad, and other useful information.

RAISING THE SALAD BAR also features familiar salads we all know and love: Greek Salad, Romaine and Cucumber Caesar Salad, Curried Chicken Salad, Avocados Stuffed with Shrimp Salad, and Seared Tuna Salad Nicoise. As I was reading the book, it made me think of creative ways to use leftovers such as roast chicken, a recent Easter ham, and some grilled marinated flank steak. I purchased some salmon at my local market today. Flipping through the book while writing this inspired me to use it in a Seared Salmon with Baby Greens and Mango Salsa Vinaigrette. This marvelous book now fills a empty gap in my cookbook library.

Mexican Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad

"One of our frequent outdoor vacation destinations is Bethel, Maine, home of Sunday River Ski Resort and one of our favorite eating spots: Cafe DiCocco. The cafes'
ever-changing breakfast and lunch menu can include fresh peach scones, homemade bagels, vegetable frittatas, soups and a variety of salads, all made with fresh ingredients by a very creative chef/owner, Cathi Di Cocco. One cafe favorite is this combo of roasted sweet potatoes, corn and black beans with a unique chipotle-sweet chile dressing." Serves 6-8

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Kernels from 3 to 4 ears of fresh corn, or 2 cups frozen kernels
2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained (canned is fine)
3 or 4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Chipotle-Chile Dressing

1 chipotle chile (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chile sauce (such as Maesri brand)
1/2 cup canola oil

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato chunks with the oil to lightly coat them. Sprinkle with coriander, cumin, chile powder and salt and toss again. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until they are golden and at the edges and just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile microwave the corn in a small amount of water for 3 to 5 minutes, or steam for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain excess water. In a large serving bowl, combine the corn and black beans.

2. To make the dressing, in a blender or food processor, place the chipotle chile, garlic, and sweet chile sauce. Process until mixture is smooth. Ad the lime juice and process again. With the machine running slowly add the canola oil, and process until it is emulsified.

3. When the sweet potatoes are done, let cool slightly and add them to the corn and beans. Add scallions and cilantro; gently toss. Pour enough dressing over the salad to just moisten the ingredients and toss again.

Catherine Walthers

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