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I've never been very interested in clever cooking, and the older I get, the less interested in it I become. I'm not talking about being intelligently creative or inventive in the kitchen, but about the kind of cooking that's more about being clever for the sake of novelty, and all too often that comes at the expense of flavor.

If, when one sits down at the table, one is obliged to be cerebral and analytical about what's in one's mouth, or wade through a thicket of startling and even conflicting aromas and flavors that crowd one another out, quite frankly it gets completely in the way of any real pleasure.

So when it comes to figuring out what on Earth to do with ham left over from my Easter dinner, my thoughts go to simplicity. I'm looking for flavors that are reassuring and comforting, not surprising. I guess it's an age thing. If you're the kind of person who enjoys being startled when you sit down to a meal and have to spend some time deciding what ingredients are having a party in your mouth, have at it.

For me, flavor is more important than gastronomical calisthenics.

So when you find yourself looking at all those leftover slices of Easter ham, consider turning them into some old-fashioned ham salad, the kind that's so easy to eat when it's spread between two slices of hearty bread. Maybe it isn't clever, but for my money, it's pretty smart.

I made this ham salad with a honey ham we picked up from Smokey Bones, and, oh my, what a difference it made rather than using a plain old ham. The smoky-sweet flavor of the ham was just lovely and added a nice dimension of flavor. This is a recipe you'll want to savor all summer long. There's something about ham salad that makes a refreshing change of pace from chicken salad and other warm-weather sandwich fillings. Smokey Bones' hams are available year-round on its EZ Cater website, ezcater.com.

Old-Fashioned Ham Salad

1 pound (about 3 cups diced) cooked lean ham

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1/2 cup finely minced shallot or red onion

1/4 to 1/3 cup sweet pickle relish (or diced sweet pickles)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3/4 cup mayonnaise or as needed to bind

Ground cayenne pepper or curry powder

Trim the ham of any fat or tough connective tissue, and cut it into 1/2-inch dice. Put it through a meat grinder, or put it into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it's coarsely but evenly chopped. If you want it to be more of a cocktail spread, keep pulsing until it's finely chopped.

Turn the ham into a mixing bowl, and mix in the celery, onion, relish and mustard. Fold in mayonnaise until the salad is a nice spreading consistency, and season with a pinch of cayenne or curry powder, depending on your preference. Taste and adjust the cayenne and add more relish, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until needed as a sandwich, a spread for crackers or stuffed inside a tomato. It'll keep, well-covered and refrigerated, for up to 4 days. Makes about 3 cups.

 

NEW ON THE MENU

Tupelo Honey's new spring menu is filled with flavors never before experienced at the Warehouse Row eatery. All of the new items, interestingly, seem to be kissed with flavors of the Southwest rather than so many of the dishes on Tupelo Honey's menu that are purely Southern. Here's the rundown of the new flavors you'll find:

— Three new skillet meals. The Pork and Poblano Scramble, Southwest Scramble and Bacon-Sausage Scramble are all perfect for your Tupelo Honey brunch.

— Three new big-bowl salads. The choices are Caesar Proper with Creole dressing, Lemon Garden Party and the South & West salad brimming with healthy mixed greens, black beans, corn and crispy tortilla strips on top.

— Two appetizers. Try a cup or bowl of Fire-Roasted Poblano and Corn Soup, or go with a serving of Blistered Shishito Peppers drizzled with chipotle aioli and topped with panko breadcrumbs.

— One big supper plate. The Chili-Lime Roasted Half-Bird has been marinated for 18 hours, then roasted and grilled and topped with chili-lime sauce. It comes with two sides, and if you've never had the potato crispers, you're missing out on some of the crispiest wedge-like potatoes you'll ever find.

If you plan on dining at Tupelo Honey at the height of the dinner hour or for its weekend brunch, reservations are advisable. Log onto tupelohoneycafe.com for more information and the complete menu.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or annebraly.com.

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Anne Braly
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