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GOOD COOKING

Could Salad Be Any Easier?

March 28, 2001|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For casual entertaining, I like to serve a salad as a first course because it starts the meal on a light note. I often find myself wishing for an alternative that does not require last-minute tossing and fine-tuning.

That's the reason for these three first-course vegetable options. The appealing freshness and flavor of these dishes are a given, and they're all plated up and ready to serve.

The marinated artichokes can be enjoyed leaf by leaf, whether they are left whole, cut in half or the leaves are attractively mounded on the plate with a dollop of herbed mayonnaise. The marinated mushrooms are served on lettuce leaves, and Sullivan's Steakhouse iceberg wedge salad speaks for itself.

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Mandel is a cookbook author.

Marinated Mushrooms With Orange Zest, Red Pepper and Basil

Active Work Time: 25 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 35 minutes plus 8 hours chilling

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound mushrooms, stems removed (reserve for another use), cut into thick slices

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup diced sweet onion

1 large red bell pepper, diced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 strips orange zest

1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil

Red leaf lettuce leaves, for serving

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Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. When it's hot, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are heated through but not losing their texture, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle them with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Cook 1 minute more. Transfer them to a bowl.

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Heat the remaining oil in the same skillet over low heat. Add the onion, red pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened but still have some crunch, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining salt, the wine, vinegar, zest and mushrooms. Simmer 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl. Cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally, then chill at least overnight, up to 3 days.

To serve, stir in the basil, taste and adjust seasoning. Remove the orange strips. Arrange lettuce on a serving plates. Use a slotted spoon to put the mushrooms on the lettuce. (This can be set up 2 hours ahead and kept chilled. Serve chilled.)

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3 to 4 servings. Each of 4 servings: 151 calories; 302 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 2.47 grams fiber.

Sullivan's Steakhouse House Iceberg Wedge

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus 24 hours chilling

This is the best iceberg wedge salad that I've tasted, whether at Sullivan's in Naperville, Chicago or Palm Desert.

DRESSING

7 ounces crumbled blue cheese

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup buttermilk, well shaken

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons oil

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place the blue cheese, mayonnaise, buttermilk, vinegar, sour cream, oil, sugar, garlic and pepper in a bowl. Using a hand-held mixer on low speed, combine all the ingredients, scraping down the bowl once. Refrigerate 24 hours or as long as 3 days.

SALAD

1 large head iceberg lettuce or 1 1/2 heads if small

6 ounces crumbled blue cheese

3 diced seeded, plum tomatoes

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Cut the lettuce head in half. Then cut each half in thirds (if small, cut each half in half). Trim the core from each wedge. Place the wedges on chilled salad plates. Spoon about 1/3 cup of dressing over each wedge, allowing it to run over the sides. Sprinkle each with blue cheese and tomatoes, dividing evenly. Serve chilled.

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6 servings. Each serving: 412 calories; 1,027 mg sodium; 57 mg cholesterol; 33 grams fat; 14 grams saturated fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 15 grams protein; 1.94 grams fiber.

Marinated Artichokes With Lemon Herb Mayonnaise

Active Work Time: 25 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour plus 2 hours chilling

I prefer to leave the tips on the leaves of the artichoke; they're attractive and easy to grasp as the bottom of the leaf is dipped into the mayonnaise. These artichokes can be cooked two days ahead; they're best served cool, not chilled, so let them come to room temperature before serving them.

LEMON MAYONNAISE

1/2 cup light mayonnaise

2 teaspoons minced mint

2 teaspoons minced basil

2 teaspoons minced chives

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Combine the mayonnaise, mint, basil, chives and zest in a small bowl. (This can be done a few hours ahead and refrigerated.)

ARTICHOKES

3 large artichokes or 6 small-medium

1/2 lemon, cut into 4 pieces

8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons olive oil

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