The thermometer in south Louisiana may be bursting, but the eating is still good. The long, hot days make for produce that is plentiful and beautiful. So fill your wooden bowls with homegrown tomatoes, sweet peppers, crisp cucumbers, summer herbs and a little imagination.
It’s salad time in the South.
As it has been for centuries, the salad is one of the most important elements of our food culture. Salads are popular as a first course as well as an entree.
There is hardly a restaurant that does not offer at least one main-course salad. From the traditional luncheon chicken salad to more exotic salads with heirloom greens, they are a menu favorite.
And combined with plentiful seafood, local chickens and even wild game, Southern salads can be unique, interesting and filling.
Margo Bouanchaud Hayes, who caters parties all over the South, recalled a lunch she had at the home of one of the great New Orleans hostesses.
“Out comes a platter of tomato aspic topped with lump crabmeat,” she said. “It was perfect.”
Even though some men might consider tomato aspic the ultimate ladies’ dish, Hayes says “absolutely not.”
“I serve it at my own house with the crabmeat or cold salmon,” she said.
Hayes said there are many recipes for tomato aspic, but she prefers those that use Bloody Mary mix as the base. Her top Bloody Mary choices are Zing Zang, Major Peters and the Louisiana favorite brand, Tabasco.
“Choose the one you like best,” she said. “But taste first because of the spiciness.”
Different aspic recipes call for a variety of ingredients.
“Put in what you want,” Hayes said. “Celery, olives, carrots, eggs — whatever you like. Some people even put cream cheese in the center of the aspic. Serve it by itself or with a little homemade mayonnaise, some toast, and you’re in business.”
Southerners grow up with a sense of hospitality, and we don’t stop entertaining just because it’s hot. It’s the perfect time for a party menu of salads, all beautifully served. Pull out your pretty platters, garnish with herbs from the garden and sit back and watch your guests fill their plates.
And the men who might otherwise make fun of those “ladies’ luncheons” will be the happiest of all.
As for the traditional chicken salad, how about a variation on the old theme? Some of the best chicken salads aren’t even made with chicken but with turkey. It’s a delicious, economical source of protein and a firmer meat that holds together well with other ingredients and seasonings.
Even though turkey salad works great for leftovers, if you want to serve a large crowd, buy a turkey breast and boil it in seasoned water until it is cooked through. You won’t find a better “chicken” salad than one made with turkey.
Here are a collection of summer salads perfect for a family supper or for entertaining your favorite gourmets:
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