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Picnic season: Time to update the salad

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 - Updated: 7:01 AM

By ANDREA WEIGL

The News & Observer

Summertime is high season for eating outdoors; weekend plans will soon be filled with cookouts, backyard parties and picnics.

That often means bringing a dish, usually a dessert or salad, to go with the host's main course. With salads, the lineup is often the same: potato salad, coleslaw, pasta salad, baked beans, bean salad.

We wanted modern takes on these classics, and this spring's crop of cookbooks offered plenty of inspiration.

In his new cookbook, "Down South," New Orleans chef and restaurateur Donald Link spices up a carrot and raisin salad with homemade curry powder. Link also updates an apple and raisin slaw by adding ginger, jalapenos and cooked bits of country ham or prosciutto for heat, crunch and saltiness.

Food writer and memoirist Kim Sunee cleverly pairs coconut milk, ginger and chiles with black-eyed peas for a fresh take on hoppin' John. In "A Mouthful of Stars," Sunee writes that she considers black-eyed peas to be "the catfish of the legume family -- musky and murky if not cooked properly." She discovered that the murkiness vanishes when the peas are cooked like an Indian-spiced lentil dish. The recipe was delicious at room temperature and without rice, which makes it a contender for taking to the outdoor feast.

Food blogger Lisa Fain updates Texas macaroni salad in her book, "The Homesick Texan's Family Table." Fain explains that a Texas macaroni salad involves pasta, pickles, peas, peppers and a mayo dressing. But it wasn't to Fain's taste: "It's a little cloying with the sweet pickles and sweet mayonnaise."

Fain's version adds cabbage for crunch, lime juice and mustard for balance and chipotle peppers for heat.

"It's a little more modern taste, a little more to my taste," Fain said.

That's exactly what we're looking to bring to the next picnic.

KEEP SALADS COOL AND SAFE TO EAT

Safely transport cold food: Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Cold food needs to be kept at 40 degrees or below to prevent bacterial growth and kept in the cooler until serving time.

Safely serve cold food: Once the salads are served, they should sit out no longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees.

COCONUT BLACK-EYED PEAS

This dish can be served warm with rice but is equally wonderful at room temperature. From "A Mouthful of Stars," by Kim Sunee.

1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil

3/4 cup diced carrots (2 small)

3/4 cup diced yellow onion

1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and diced

1 pound dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked through (soaked overnight, if needed)

5 cups water

1 1/2 tablespoons hot curry powder or garam masala

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 large juicy orange

1/2 to 3/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk, shaken

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

Garnish: chopped red onion, chopped fresh jalapeno, lime wedges

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat; add carrots, onion, ginger, garlic and apple. Stir and let cook about 3 minutes, being careful not to burn. Add black-eyed peas, water, curry powder, salt, cumin and black pepper; stir and bring to a boil. Skim the froth, decrease heat to medium-low, and simmer about 40 minutes, until peas are almost tender. Stir occasionally, mashing some of the peas against the side of the pot for creaminess. Add more water, as needed, if peas are dry.

Add zest from one-quarter of the orange, then cut orange in half and squeeze juice into the peas. Add coconut milk and stir. Simmer, covered, for another 7 to 10 minutes, until peas are tender. Taste peas and adjust the seasonings as needed. Pour peas into a large serving dish. Garnish with cilantro, red onion, jalapenos and lime wedges.

Yield: 8-10 servings.

MACARONI SALAD

This macaroni salad is for fans of coleslaw and egg salad with its addition of red cabbage and hard-cooked eggs. Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce can be found with Mexican ingredients at grocery stores. From "The Homesick Texan's Family's Table," by Lisa Fain.

2 cups shredded red cabbage

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 ounces elbow macaroni

4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and diced

1/2 cup grated carrot

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup diced sweet cucumber pickles

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard

1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, diced

1/4 teaspoon cumin

Put cabbage in a strainer and then place strainer in a bowl. Toss cabbage with salt and refrigerator for 1 hour. This step will drain cabbage of its excess water and keep it crisp in the salad.

Cook macaroni according to the package instructions, drain, rinse and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

One hour later, take cabbage from strainer and place in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, carrot, garlic, red onion, cilantro, pickles and macaroni.

Whist together mayonnaise, lime juice, mustard, chipotle chile and cumin. Spoon dressing over salad and stir until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. (While it should be chilled enough to eat immediately, it will be even better if refrigerated for at least an hour before serving.)

Yield: 8 servings.

CURRIED CARROT RAISIN SALAD

From "Down South," by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe.

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons curry powder (preferably homemade, recipe follows)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Juice of 1 lemon

1 pound carrots, peeled and shredded (about 4 cups)

2 cups good-quality raisins

1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, thinly sliced

Mix mayonnaise with curry powder, salt, cayenne and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Fold in carrots, raisins and parsley. Refrigerate for an hour or up to four hours to allow flavors to develop.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

HOMEMADE CURRY POWDER

From "Down South," by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe.

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons cardamom seeds

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Heaping 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Toast cumin, cardamom and coriander seeds in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until seeds are lightly browned and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely. Add turmeric, dry mustard and cayenne and mix to combine. Grind spices in a coffee grinder. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

Yield: 1/4 cup.

GINGERED APPLE SLAW

Chef Donald Link suggests these apple varieties for this slaw: Gala, Braeburn and Golden Delicious. From "Down South," by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe.

4 apples, cored and cut into matchsticks, about 4 cups

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon ginger juice (see note below)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 large jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and minced

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 ounces crispy prosciutto or country ham, optional

Use a rubber spatula to combine sliced apples in a medium bowl with mayonnaise, lemon juice, ginger juice, cilantro and jalapeno; season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with prosciutto if desired.

Note: Use a box grater or large-toothed Microplane to grate about 2 tablespoons ginger. Use your fingers to squeeze juice from grated pulp. If you prefer, you can use a garlic press to extract the pungent juice from a slice of fresh ginger. If you want to add crispy prosciutto to the salad, thinly slice the ham and fry it in a couple of tablespoons oil until crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Break ham into small pieces over salad.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

     

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