While Some Go for the Gold, This Urban Farmer and Chef Extraordinaire Goes for the Greens

May 6, 2012
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Salad for Dinner author Jeanne Kelley picks some greens from her garden.

Salad for Dinner author Jeanne Kelley picks some greens from her garden. Photo by Ryan Robert Miller.

For most of us, our salad days were that one time in our life when we were at the peak of our abilities. For local author Jeanne Kelley, those heady days show no sign of ending.

In her newest book, Salad for Dinner: Complete Meals for All Seasons, published by Rizzoli and available at Vroman’s in Pasadena and Amazon.com among other outlets, Kelley gives glorious greens their delicious due, pushing them squarely to the center of the dinner table.

Suzanne Tract, chef/owner of Los Angeles’ wonderful Jar restaurant, calls Kelley’s homage to salads “a bible” that “will inspire you to cook, garden, entertain, and appreciate all the joys of living.”

Indeed, Kelley makes greens come alive with 100 recipes that not only cull from the classics like the Cobb, Caesar, Green Goddess and Waldorf, but also encourage experimentation and risk-taking with the best and freshest ingredients that nature has to offer.

If you’re expecting yesteryear’s Soup Plantation, Marie Calendar’s or the Hometown Buffet salad bar — and the proverbial wedge of iceberg lettuce buried under a mound of cheddar cheese — you’ve picked up the wrong book. This is salad done right – a contemporary celebration and a revelation that will forever break you out of the “meat-and-three” rut, leading you to a new way to think about what’s for dinner.

Going greener, however, doesn’t mean you’ll have to sacrifice your daily portion of meat, poultry or seafood.

“To be clear, I am not pushing ‘rabbit food,’” Kelley said from her Eagle Rock aerie whose kitchen opens to a lovely terraced garden overlooking the city of angels. “I enjoy steak, cured meats, rich cheeses, and crunchy, olive-oil infused croutons as much as I love arugula, tatsoi, romaine, watercress and frisee.

“I just think that steak, cured meats, rich cheeses, and croutons taste even better when featured as part of a crisp, flavorful salad.”

Again, Kelley is the perfect chef and author to make everything “taste even better.”kelley-4a1

In her early 20s, she attended the internationally renowned La Varenne cooking school in Paris. Back in the states, she apprenticed at Ken Franks’ La Toque restaurant in Los Angeles (since relocated to Napa, Calif.). Then she began a two-decade association with Bon Appetit magazine as a recipe tester and contributing editor. Today she is a frequent contributor to Cooking Light and Finer Cooking. Her articles also appear in Prevention, Fitness, and Los Angeles Times Magazine. She is also the author of the much-admired Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes.

Moreover, her husband, Martin, a noted landscape architect in Southern California, is one of the founders of the Eagle Rockdale community garden. “We grow tons and tons of salad greens in the community garden,” Kelley added, many of which find their way onto their plates every night for dinner.

So, Salad for Dinner is really the organic culmination of their life well lived together. Each recipe is lovingly tendered with honesty and a refreshing reverence for what comes out of the ground. There’s no artifice or pink slime within a thousand miles of this book.

Beautifully photographed by Ryan Robert Miller, each turn of the page is an accessible, appetizing journey and an invitation to start making your own delicious meals filled with all the colors, textures, and flavors that nature provides. Kelley certainly gives you all the tools to be successful.

For example, her “Salad Primer” chapter contains a glossary of greens — as numerous as there are letters in the alphabet, with Kelley explaining the unique qualities and characteristics of each. Her writing and story-telling are as pure and pleasing as the recipes she shares.

“Wood sorrel is the bane of many gardens,” Kelley writes in her section on edibles growing in the wild. “The prolific weed, known as oxalis, has a complete root system, making it difficult to eradicate.

“So as a gardener, if you can’t beat it, eat it.”

The primer also shares tips on how to grow, wash, store, measure, prepare, plate and serve salads that are “in season.” Kelley is not only a brilliant cook, she is a master stylist with a deft eye and hand for composition.

Another joy of the book is the mélange of dressings that accompany and accent each salad.

Salad for Dinner makes the perfect addition to every kitchen.

Salad for Dinner makes the perfect addition to every kitchen. Photo by Ryan Robert Miller

“For the same reason I take a pass on iceberg lettuce,” Kelley said, “you won’t find vegetable oil in any of the vinaigrettes or salad dressings in the book. I want my salads to be flavorful – so why just add a neutral oil that will only blunt the acid of vinegar or lemon juice when I can add taste at the same time? Fruity extra-virgin olive oil, toasted nut oils, sesame oil—all these flavorfully enhance the salads without dulling flavor.”

Just as Kelley provides scrumptious and savory salads for every season, she also provides delectable dressings for every salad.” Less is more for Kelley, who believes every salad should be “dressed appropriately.”

“I think one of the biggest problems people face is they overdress their salads,” Kelley noted. “Unless I’m at a restaurant that I know is really, really great at making their salads, I always order the dressing on the side.”

That said, Kelley’s amazing array of dressings and vinaigrettes is so tempting that it will be difficult to limit yourself to the teaspoon or two that Kelley says she enjoys, especially when the dressings come with appetizing appellations like mango chutney, maple-bacon, and garlic-mint to name a few.

Another benefit of the book, besides providing an abundance of satisfying new options for dinner, is how much better having salad for dinner will literally make you feel.

“I am often asked how I manage to stay fit, given my job as a “food professional,” said Kelley, who cuts a willowy and graceful figure. This question, I’ll admit, usually comes as I am proffering a slice of homemade frosted layer cake or indulging in a hefty wedge of still-warm-from-the-oven fruit pie (her first book was Holiday Baking for Williams-Sonoma).

For the recipe to Jeanne's chicken, avocado and mango salad, please click on Highlights on the front page of LaVerneOnline.com.

For the recipe to Jeanne's chicken, avocado and mango salad, please click on Highlights on the front page of LaVerneOnline.com. Photo by Ryan Robert Miller.

“Like everybody, I am weight conscious, but I never diet. And while I exercise daily, I’m more of a stroller than a tri-athlete. So, with my healthy and enthusiastic appetite, why am I not as big as a house? I can only figure that salads are a big part of the answer.”

These benefits will extend beyond helping you squeeze into your bathing suit this summer, according to Kelley.

“Research shows that homemade olive oil-and-vinegar salad dressings eaten in conjunction with a diet rich in nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, fruits, cruciferous and dark and leafy green vegetables lessen the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

Another appealing aspect of making more salads for dinner is you don’t need a lot of specialty cooking equipment to launch your healthy lifestyle transformation.

“The only exception to this gadget-free dish is the salad spinner,” said Kelley, who swears by her Oxo salad spinner. “This handy tool quickly and gently removes excess moisture from even the tenderest greens.”

It took Kelley about a year to complete the book, the perfect complement of days to experience and then share the full flower and flavor of each season’s unique offerings.

But you’ll need only the time it takes to open the book and peruse the first page to know Salad for Dinner can be a life-changer. After reading it, you’ll never eye the greens, fruits and vegetables in your local market’s produce section the same way again.

Nor after reading it will you settle for bottled salad dressing again. Why would you when you can have the real thing, which is exactly what Salad for Dinner delivers.


Throughout the book, you’ll enjoy Kelley’s enormous warmth, heart and compassion. How else can you explain her ending the book with “One Sweet Finish,” a chocolate cream pie!

“I wanted to include one fantastic sweet in this book because when you eat salad for lunch or dinner,” she asked, “shouldn’t you be rewarded with dessert?”

We couldn’t agree more or recommend the book more highly!

For more about Kelley in the kitchen, please vist www.jeannekelleykitchen.com and try her fabulous chicken, avocado and mango salad by going to Highlights on the front page of LaVerneOnline.

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