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Anne Braly

What plans do you have for your leftover Christmas ham? Sandwiches? Maybe a ham-and-cheese omelet? If you've lost inspiration, here's a delicious suggestion: Ham salad with warm peanut dressing. It's something that will get you out of the holiday mode and into salad season, which is right on our heels. There's no better time than the present to start thinking about adding a lighter touch to your weekday menu.

For a more healthful offering, use natural peanut butter. It's a much better option, tasting like peanuts rather than all the sugar found in other peanut butters. Soy sauce and ginger give the dressing Asian flair, while lime juice adds a tart kick that marries beautifully with the peanut butter and counteracts the sometimes overly sweet taste of the mandarin oranges tossed with the ham and greens.

While the dressing warms on the stove, prepare the salad fixings. The recipe, from the National Pork Board, calls for watercress, which, this time of year, is difficult, if not impossible, to find. Check Whole Foods, though, as it does come in sporadically throughout the year. If you cannot locate watercress, substitute arugula, which has a similarly sharp, peppery flavor, or baby spinach for a somewhat milder taste.

Any kind of ham works in this recipe. It calls for thin strips of ham, which look very pretty, but chunks work fine, too, if you're not worried about presentation.

Serve this salad for dinner, and you won't have your family shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Ham again?" It pairs nicely with warm, crispy bread.

Ham Salad With Peanut Dressing

Dressing:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup peanut butter

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon sugar

Salad:

1 medium cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

6 cups romaine lettuce or curly endive

1 bunch watercress (or arugula or baby spinach leaves)

1 head radicchio or Boston lettuce

3/4 pound boneless ham, sliced into 1/2 inch strips

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin orange segments, drained

Roasted peanuts, (optional)

In medium saucepan combine oil, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sugar, stirring over low heat to dissolve sugar and heat through.

In large bowl toss together cucumber, onion, romaine or endive, and watercress. Line plates with radicchio, top with tossed vegetables, ham and orange sections. Drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with roasted peanuts, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

CORNBREAD SEASON

It's time to think cornbread.

Organizers are gearing up for the annual National Cornbread Cook-off to be held in the town of South Pittsburg, Tenn., on April 28. Now through Jan. 15, cooks can submit an original main dish/entree recipe prepared in a Lodge cast-iron skillet and using at least one package of Martha White cornbread mix. There will be 10 finalists selected to meet in South Pittsburg and prepare their dishes on the town square.

Linda Carmen, Martha White baking expert, says she continues to be impressed with the many ways cooks can turn cornbread into masterpieces. "Past contestants have stretched beyond Southern cuisine, preparing Caribbean, Tex-Mex and Mediterranean-style dishes," she says.

For a complete list of rules, log onto nationalcornbread.com, then get cooking. Maybe it will be someone from the Chattanooga area who takes home the grand prize of $5,000 and a new gas range from FiveStar Professional Cooking Equipment.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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