Salads and recipes that surprise and excite

The Modern Salad
A cookbook review with
Burmese Tea Leaf Salad Recipe
and wine pairing

By Linda Kissam & Adrianne Morrison

9781612435664-frontcover1Grab your fork, napkin and salad dressing.  It’s salad time! Elizabeth Howes, author of the cookbook, The Modern Salad has created a feast for the eyes and the palate. If you are a salad aficionado, this is the book for you. Its serious words of wisdom on how to turn crisp greens, sweet tomatoes, yummy bell pepper, crunchy garlic and more into masterpieces.
modernsalads-tealeafsalad1The recipes in this book are modeled after the iconic Burmese tea leaf salad called lahpet thoke which is made up of numerous components grounded by fermented or pickled tea leaves. By design each salad is “uncommon,” featuring a variety of ingredients separately showcased on a platter and tossed together table side just before serving. The end result is a fusion of crunchy, earthy, salty, fresh flavors that are ultimately addictive.

The book is divided into 6 chapters: vegetarian; noodles, grains, and legumes; fish and shellfish; chicken, turkey, and duck; pork and beef.  The salads are created from spices, herbs, grains, nuts, oils, and vinegars. You can find most of what the author suggests as basic pantry items from Whole Foods or a local Asian market. If you love taking your cooking skills to the “next level” and trying new things – in some cases with things you’ll most likely have never heard of before – this would be the book for you.

four-stars-dreamstime_xs_43426141Adrianne and Linda give this book 4 out of five stars.  One star is lacking because of the difficulty (for us) of sourcing and using some of the ingredients.

The photos in the book are beautiful, the recipes are mad with flavor and generally under 15 listed items. We can see giving the book and a beautifully wrapped up box of pantry ingredients as a wedding, holiday or birthday gift.

My mom made Jello salad. She loved those little molds and made every recipe in the Jello pamphlet. When I had dinner at my girlfriend’s house, her family served a salad with most every evening meal… lettuce, tomato, cucumber, green onions, etc. I remember it as fresh and crunchy and, well, different from what I was used to. I kept thinking about those salads while browsing through The Modern Salad, Innovative New American and International Recipes Inspired by Burma’s Iconic Tea Leaf Salad written by Elizabeth Howes—a beautiful book filled with story and excellent photography presented on quality stock pages.

Digging in, I enjoyed the story of The Burmese Tea Leaf Salad, it’s origin and history with the recipe and a full-page photo—so appetizing. Expect to find groupings of salads with specific appeal to the Vegetarian; or to those who favor Noddles, Grains, and Legumes; Fish and Shellfish; Chicken, Turkey and Duck; and then Pork and Beef. These salads involve pre-planning, not just in acquiring fresh produce, but you’ll also need the specific pantry and some specialty items like Sticky Rice Powder and Crunchy Roasted Split Mug Dal. Thus, this isn’t a beginner’s cookbook—it’s more for those who are comfortable with the basics and are now seeking new ingredient combinations for flavorful impact.

The salads of my childhood were definitely side-dishes, but Howes’ salads are worthy of center-stage—truly worth the time of preparation. Ms. Howes quotes M.F.K. Fisher from The Art of Eating:

I believe that one of the most dignified ways we are capable of, to assert and then reassert our dignity in the face of poverty and war’s fears and pains, is to nourish ourselves with all possible skill, delicacy, and ever-increasing enjoyment. And with our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly ourselves. Then Fate, even tangled as it is with cold wars and as well at hot, cannot harm us.

The Modern Salad is a pathway to such dignity howeselizabeth1thanks to Elizabeth Howes sharing her thoughts and skill in creating recipes that inspire our better chef-selves to delight our own as well as the pallets of all who share our table.

I love love love salads. It may be genetic or having grown up in Southern California, salads are second nature to me and are served every day in my home.
modernsalads-buildingpantry1The reason I enjoyed this book so much was the idea behind the combinations of ingredients.  Each ingredient brings a distinct flavor profile to the harmony of the salad as well as painting the most beautiful picture on the plate and on the palate.  Each ingredient lends a hand to the next so that when all the pieces are combined, the result is a balanced meal of salty, sweet, sour, crunchy, bitter, umami, and astringent elements that all play nicely together and are killer with a crisp white wine or dry rosé.

This is “the go to book” for ladies who host luncheons in their home. You want people talking about what you did for your last party? Use this book as your guide. As the witty saying goes, “It’s a party in the mouth.”

Thanks to the author and publisher for a tasteful sample of what this cookbook has to offer.

The Burmese Tea Leaf Salad
modernsalads-tealeafsalad1Excerpted with the publisher’s permission from The Modern Salad (Ulysses Press, 2016) by Elizabeth Howes.

Pair with Domaine Rosier Cuvee Jean Philippe Brut Blanquette di Limoux 2014 $10. Soft sparkler with just the right amount of bubbles. Pale gold in color, the nose hints of white fruits and almonds. Refreshing with this salad. (90% Mauzac, 10% Chardonnay)

This salad has become a cult favorite for a very good reason: It’s outrageously tasty, exhilarating to eat, and ignites all the senses. I’ll admit it. I have a long-standing love affair with this salad. I often crave it, deeply. The variation of ingredients doesn’t even matter that much. As long as it’s made well, with perfectly bright, tart, and deeply flavored tea leaves, anything else pretty much goes. My modern version incorporates a few non- traditional ingredients, like romaine lettuce, red bell pepper, and a wide variety of seeds for added color, texture, and nutrients. Also, instead of fried beans or peas, I developed a recipe for roasted split mung dal. They’re a slightly nutty, super healthy, and extra crunchy addition to an already exceptional lineup of ingredients.

NOTE: Dried shrimp are widely used in Asian and Latin American kitchens. Their aroma is much stronger than their flavor, and they fade into the background while greatly enhancing whatever they come into contact with. Well-stocked Asian markets and large grocery stores often carry them. For a vegetarian version, omit the dried shrimp and fish sauce, and instead use tamari or soy sauce.


3 cups Fermented Tea Leaves

4 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage (about 1 large head)

4 cups finely shredded romaine lettuce hearts (about 2 medium)

2 cups thinly sliced tomato

2 cups finely diced red bell pepper

1⁄2 cup Crunchy Roasted Split Mung Dal

1⁄4 cup raw, shelled, and unsalted sunflower seeds

1⁄4 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds

1⁄4 cup raw sesame seeds, toasted

2 tablespoons raw hemp seeds

1⁄4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons roughly chopped Roasted Peanuts

1⁄2 cup Crispy Garlic,
some slices left intact, others finely chopped

1⁄4 cup finely ground dried shrimp

1⁄2 cup Garlic Oil

2 teaspoons fish sauce

2 lemons, quartered

sea salt, plus Maldon sea salt for finishing

Place the tea leaves in a fine-mesh sieve to allow any excess liquid to drain. Assemble the Napa cabbage, romaine, tomato, bell pepper, mung dal, seeds, peanuts, crispy garlic, and dried shrimp on a large platter or on individual plates. Add the desired amount of tea leaves, and drizzle the garlic oil and fish sauce over the salad.

At table side, toss thoroughly with a spoon and fork or clean bare hands, until the tea leaves are completely incorporated with the other ingredients. Serve the lemon wedges on the side and Maldon sea salt for finishing.


The Modern Salad
Elizabeth Holmes
$15.21 Hardback
$12.99 Kindle

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*Tea Leaf Salad image credit: Courtesy of Ulysses Press/Kimberley Hasselbrink

**Building Your Pantry image credit: Courtesy of Ulysses Press/Elizabeth Howes



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