In Print

Salad season

Raising the Salad Bar

By Laura Wainwright - July 19, 2007

"Raising the Salad Bar," by Catherine Walthers, photographs by Alison Shaw. Lake Isle Press. 2007. $19.95. 271 pages.

Just when the season turned to salads this spring, along came "Raising the Salad Bar" by Catherine Walthers, a new cookbook offering refreshing combinations of tastes with explicit, clear directions for easy preparation at home. Ms. Walthers, a local private chef and a founding member of the Martha's Vineyard Slow Food Group, teamed up with photographer Alison Shaw to create a dazzling book. Delicious recipes are shown in luscious photographs.

I tend to make the same two or three salad dressings and simple salads. I couldn't wait to expand my repertoire.

The opening of the West Tisbury Farmer's Market provided the perfect opportunity to try out some recipes. I read through the book and after much deliberation chose three recipes. Narrowing the selection was challenging. The photographs and the recipes are seductive. I based my choices on ingredients I knew would be available and at their freshest: strawberries, spinach, asparagus, and arugula.

Saturday morning I grabbed my tote bag and headed to the market. It felt good to be back amid the abundance of asparagus, lettuces and greens of all kinds, herbs, and heirloom tomato plants for the garden. I stopped at each stand to marvel and chat and came home laden with delicious local tastes, asparagus from Lisa at Stannard Farm, Debbie Farber's lettuce, and Morning Glory's spinach and arugula.

Driving home, the car filled with the fragrance of the strawberries from Whippoorwill Farm. There is nothing like a fresh picked June strawberry.

I started with the salad on the cover, a simple mixture of fresh arugula, avocado, and Parmesan cheese with a lemon and olive oil dressing. The classic Italian version of this has no avocado but the creaminess of the avocado and its light green color were a perfect match with the peppery arugula.

I made the salad in a few minutes, sat down to a late lunch and ate the whole thing. It was delicious.

The second salad I made was the Baby Spinach and Strawberry Salad. The two main ingredients had been picked that morning. The recipe called for a daikon radish, but I happily substituted red and white radishes from Morning Glory Farm. My salad looked almost as pretty as the one Ms. Shaw photographed in the book and it was very tasty.

With the asparagus from Stannard Farm, I made a white bean and asparagus salad. This salad was my favorite. The combination of asparagus, white beans, and roasted red peppers in an herb vinaigrette was superb. There were explicit directions for roasting the pepper that were easy to follow and worked perfectly.

Another plus to "Raising the Salad Bar" is its size, shape and layout. The book is almost square and stays open comfortably on the counter. The print is easy to read and the layout visually clear.

I appreciate the way Ms. Walthers continually invites experimentation and keeps the whole thing fun. Her tone is informative, but always clear and easy. You can tell from the book that she and Ms. Shaw both must be fun to eat with. Their love of good fresh food comes through in a wholesome, unpretentious way.

I know I will use "Raising the Salad Bar" again and again. Since starting this article I have gone back to the market and bought the ingredients for two more salads, tortellini and baby spinach pasta salad and lemony asparagus and artichoke pasta salad with chicken. I haven't even begun to try the meat salads or the potato salads. And then there is the whole chapter on dressings alone.

Sorry, but I have to stop here so I can get into the kitchen and get started!

Laura Wainwright is a contributing writer to The Times.