The Modern Salad
A cookbook review with
Burmese Tea Leaf Salad Recipe
and wine pairing
By Linda Kissam & Adrianne Morrison
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.
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 thanks 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.
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.
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
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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