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Elegance in a Hurry

December 19, 1996|BETTY ROSBOTTOM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Cooking impromptu meals seems to be my fate. Friends and family are forever calling at the last minute to say they will be in town or that they would like to stop by.

That was the situation at our house several days ago. Our twentysomething son called and asked if he could bring his girlfriend home for dinner. Typically, he called at the last minute, telephoning on Sunday morning to say that he would like to drive out that night from his home, two hours away.

My son and his friend love food, and I knew they would appreciate a special meal, but I had only a few hours to choose a menu, do the grocery shopping and cook. I finally decided to make some dishes and buy others.

I had been anxious to reproduce a delicious smoked salmon and mixed greens salad in a creamy lemon dressing that I had tasted in Paris on a recent visit; that was my first-course choice. To save time, I bought a spit-roasted turkey breast (still warm when I paid for it) at a local grocery store and settled on simple side dishes of blanched green beans and wild rice. For dessert, I had some red wine-poached pears from a cooking class in my refrigerator; they could be served with scoops of store-bought vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream.

Although we ate with gusto throughout the night, the salad was everyone's favorite dish. I was pleased because it made a sophisticated first course but was simple to prepare. I tossed fresh mixed greens in a dressing made with whipping cream, sour cream, lemon juice, shallots and fresh herbs. Then I mounded the greens on plates and garnished them with thin slices of smoked salmon and golden sesame toasts.

This is a good opener to use when entertaining because there is hardly any last-minute work. The greens can be cleaned and the dressing prepared in advance and the toasts quickly sauteed a half-hour ahead; the salad needs only to be assembled at dinner time.

SMOKED SALMON AND GREENS SALAD IN CREAMY LEMON DRESSING

DRESSING

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup light sour cream

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped chives or parsley, preferably flat leaf

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried

SALAD AND TOASTS

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Olive oil

12 (1/4-inch-thick) slices crusty French bread, cut on diagonal

8 cups mixed greens (like mesclun mix or Boston, radicchio and oak leaf), cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces

1/2 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon

Black pepper

DRESSING

Whisk whipping cream and sour cream in small, nonreactive bowl. Set aside at room temperature so mixture thickens slightly, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add lemon juice, shallots, salt, several grindings black pepper, chives and dill and mix well to blend. Set aside at room temperature 30 to 45 minutes longer to thicken again. (If not using immediately, dressing can be refrigerated 3 to 4 hours. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using and whisk well.)

SALAD AND TOASTS

Heat large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add sesame seeds and stir constantly until golden, 3 minutes or less. Remove to side dish.

In same skillet, add enough olive oil to coat bottom of pan lightly. Place over medium heat and when oil is hot, arrange enough bread slices to fit comfortably in single layer in pan. Fry until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn slices and cook in same way on other side, adding oil as necessary. Remove to side dish.

Sprinkle toasts lightly with toasted sesame seeds. Continue with remaining slices. (Toasts can be left, uncovered, at room temperature 30 minutes.)

To assemble, place greens in large mixing bowl and toss with just enough Dressing to coat lightly. (You may not need to use all of Dressing.) Arrange mounds of greens on 6 individual salad plates. Arrange salmon slices as border around greens. Sprinkle each salad with several grindings of black pepper and garnish each with 2 sesame toasts.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

265 calories; 619 mg sodium; 37 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 14 grams protein; 0.69 gram fiber.

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