Salad Success

A sneak peek at a recipe in The Junior League's forthcoming cookbook, Something to Talk About ' Occasions We Celebrate in South Louisiana.

Menu planning can be a daunting task depending on the time of year, type of event and ingredients that are in season. A refreshing drink is a great starter for any luncheon ' bellinis, mimosas, white wine or the standby Bloody Mary. Follow with a light salad, bite-sized appetizers, cup of soup and simple dessert, and you've got a menu.

Andy Ducharme's recipe for Fruity Spring Salad Mix mixes fresh greens with a sweet-hot vinaigrette, sugared almonds and poppy seed puff pastry straws. Her combination was published in Southern Living magazine, and it's one of the recipes in the Junior League of Lafayette's upcoming fall cookbook, Something to Talk About ' Occasions We Celebrate in South Louisiana. "It's a great base salad," Ducharme says. Seasonal fruit like strawberries or apples can be substituted for the chunk pineapple, kiwi and mandarin oranges. Ducharme also adds grilled meat and tops the salad with fresh shaved Parmesan cheese.

The key to any good salad is crisp greens. "I always wash the lettuce ahead of time and spin it and then I wrap them and layer it in paper towels," Ducharme says. She keeps the lettuce in a sealed Ziploc bag before using. Blending the dressing is also an important step. "You're trying to make an emulsion with the oil and the vinegar," Ducharme explains. The mixture must be whisked for seven-10 minutes or the oil may separate.

The tasty puff pastry straws are her favorite. "You can do all kinds of things with them," she says. "You can twist them. These are wonderful to make ahead and freeze. These will store in your freezer for months between waxed paper.

"The last thing you always do is drizzle the salad dressing," she continues. "I often criss-cross the pastry straws over the salad and place a flower on top."

Whether it's a bridesmaids luncheon or other traditional south Louisiana occasion, Fruity Spring Mix Salad makes for a refreshing dish. "It's wonderful in the evenings in the summer, because it's not heavy, and it fills you up," Ducharme says. "I'm always making this and adding things to it. This is a good basic salad to use all year long."

Fruity Spring Mix Salad with Poppy Seed Puff Pastry Straws

1 head Bibb or Butter Lettuce
10 ounces gourmet mixed salad greens
2 cups fresh chunk pineapple
2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
1 11-ounce can Dole mandarin oranges, drained and chilled
16 green or red seedless grapes, washed and cut in half lengthwise

Toss ingredients together in a large bowl. Drizzle evenly with Sweet-Hot Vinaigrette (recipe below) just before serving, and sprinkle with sugared almonds (recipe below).

Sweet-Hot Vinaigrette

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

Slowly whisk vegetable oil and vinegar together for up to 10 minutes. Add sugar and whisk, then add salt, black pepper and hot sauce. Can refrigerate or serve at room temperature.

Sugared Almonds

1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon water

Spread almonds on foil and brown lightly in the oven for 8-10 minutes at 300 degrees. In a heavy saucepan, add sugar and water. Bring to a soft boil on medium heat, then add almonds. Toss quickly to cover well, then spread almonds on foil to cool. Make sure almonds are dry before removing from foil, then break apart to separate.

Poppy Seed Puff Pastry Straws

2 17.5-ounce packages Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry sheets
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

Thaw pastry sheets to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Unfold onto a lightly floured surface and brush both halves with egg and water mixture. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese, poppy seeds and dried parsley flakes on top. Cut each square in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 26, 1/4-inch strips. Place two inches apart onto a greased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes until lightly golden.

For more information about The Junior League of Lafayette's cookbooks, call 988-2739.