Salad Days

After tasting more than 500 recipes for the Junior League of Lafayette's latest cookbook, Anne Black has a personal favorite.

Anne Black learned to cook by watching and helping her mother in the kitchen but couldn't always remember recipe specifics when she began cooking for her own family.

"I have a brother and a sister, and I think my mother got tired of everyone calling and asking, 'How do you make so and so?'" says Black.

The result was a cookbook from her mother, Leu Wilder, titled By Special Request: Old Recipes for a New Generation. In the cookbook's introduction, Wilder writes: "I was pushed into this project by my three children, Mitchell, Amanda, and Anne. When they left home and established their own households, they all have, in turn, called for 'my' old recipes. When Anne wanted my recipe for vegetable soup, I told her as best I could to boil together meat, tomatoes, vegetables, etc. Later, when I asked her how the soup turned out, she said, 'The flavor was very good, but it was more like stew.' When I inquired how much water she used to boil the meat in, there was a long pause. She said, 'Water?' So the next time I made soup, I measured and recorded. Slowly, the everyday recipes were put on paper."

Black's mother's guidance ' and her own travels ' contributed to Black's cultivated palate. She grew up in Shreveport and has lived in Texas and New Orleans but has called Lafayette home for almost a decade. "I've lived in south Louisiana since 1989 and Lafayette for eight years," she says. "We're true south Louisianans, because we've lived below I-10 for so long." Black ranks local cuisine shoulder-to-shoulder with its regional counterparts. "I think they dress it up more in New Orleans, but Lafayette can hold a candle to what goes on over there."

For the Junior League of Lafayette's latest cookbook, Something to Talk About, Black held the job of recipe tester. Out of more than 500 recipes she tasted, Oriental Chicken Salad has become a family favorite. "In the last four weeks, I've made it about four times," she says.

The most intriguing characteristic of the salad is its unusual, flavorful sauce made from mayonnaise, soy sauce and honey. "The first time I cooked it, I thought, hmmm, but all the flavors meld," she says. "Then you add the chicken, then dried cranberries, toasted almonds and green onions. Then you put the chow mein noodles around or on top to give it a little crunch. I serve it on shredded lettuce."

For those pressed for time, Black has a personal shortcut for the chicken. "I cheat," she says. "I purchase those rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. All you do is add the ingredients."

In spring or summer, Oriental Chicken Salad is easy to prepare without heating up the kitchen, and doubles as a snack and can be served on crackers. It's so simple, you won't need to ask mom for help.

Oriental Chicken Salad
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 baked, smoked or boiled chicken, deboned and chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup dry chow mein noodles

Combine the mayonnaise, honey and soy sauce in a large bowl and mix well. Fold in the chicken, cranberries and almonds. Fold in the green onions. Chill until serving time. Top with the chow mein noodles. Serve on a bed of lettuce or in avocado halves with crackers or rolls. Serves six to eight.

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