`Simply Salads' by relative newcomer writer, Jennifer Chandler, is based on a simple and very attractive premise of using cut, cleaned, and bagged greens from your grocers' refrigerated produce section. I am not a great fan of these bagged goods, except for the single variety packs of spinach, arugula, and the like. And, since I am known for excessive nit-picking, let me say at the outset that this is a first rate cookbook resource for someone who really likes salads. For those people, especially people with at least three or four people to feed at a sitting who do not have a lot of time to shop for and prep the individual greens, this is a superb premise, and Ms. Chandler pulls it off with very few gotchas.
The biggest question regarding these packaged greens, of course, is whether to trust the `pre-washed' claim, especially in light of the recent vegetable borne food contamination on spinach and onions. I was firmly in the camp, even before this news, of thoroughly washing all greens, sometimes several times (for spinach especially), and I was backed up in this view by no less then Emeril Lagasse who, on a show a few years back, gave a scolding look to the notion of using unwashed greens, regardless of the packaging. The author tends to believe the packagers' claim of effective pre-washing. I would recommend washing and spinning dry, regardless of how big the `prewashed' blurbs are on the package.
I warmed up to Ms. Chandler's book when I saw her list of recommend kitchen tools and pantry items. These lists seem to be done by every Tom, Dick and Harry cookbook writer, and many are unnecessarily long for the `cook because I have to' working parent. Ms. Chandler's list is just about right. The only things I would add would be bacon, eggs, and buttermilk to the refrigerator list, with the understanding that you will be making buttermilk based dressings at least once a week (and buttermilk is an ingredient in many of the more popular dressings in this book).
The fact that Ms. Chandler assumes you will be making your own dressings, and provides dressing recipes for each salad was the part of the book that really won me over. It also points out that this book is NOT just about speed, as many of the recipes take far longer than the famous '30 Minute Meal' rubric of Ms. R. R. The point of the bagged greens is also not primarily about economy. If anything, it's about shopping time and convenience and avoiding waste. Buying arugula, radicchio, and escarole to create a Mediterranean salad generally leads to having a whole lot of one or two of the ingredients left over. So, while the prepackaged greens may be a bit more expensive than buying them individually, there is less waste. But, as my experience with cooking for only two tells me, buying 10 oz of the packaged greens will not guarantee no waste, especially if your co-diner is finicky, and can't stand the thought of eating the same salad two days in a row. And, many greens do go downhill very quickly. So, the value of this book is far greater for those of you feeding four or more at a sitting compared to those of us who feed only one or ourselves other.
Once you buy into Ms. Chandler's premise, the biggest selling point of the book is the fact that our Jenny recreates virtually every major popular salad known to modern man, from the pre-packaged greens and the homemade dressings. And, most (but not all) of the recipes come very, very close to their classic ethnic sources.
In the 100 recipes, there are recipes for Caesar's salad (classic and neuvo), Cobb's salad, Caprese salad, Panzanella salad, tuna Nicoise salad, antipasti salad, wilted spinach salad, pasta salads, many slaws, and a few potato salads. In addition, there are several saladized versions of classic dishes, such as a blt salad (didn't I tell you that you will need bacon on hand), a pulled pork bbq salad, and a southern fried chicken salad. While the author wisely makes no strong claims about all these salads' being especially healthy, it is relatively easy to see that a blt salad (with no bread) is healthier than the classic sandwich from which it is derived.
It is important to note that a large number of these salads, especially those in the poultry, meat, seafood, and `starches' (beans, grains, rice, & pasta) chapters are excellent single dish main courses. And, even if you have lots of time to cook, single dish main meals still make a lot of sense because you don't have to juggle getting three different courses to the table at the same time, while still piping hot. You do need to realize, however, that the prep and cooking times or setup requirements for the proteins in many of these dishes can be extensive. Several chicken dishes, for example, specify grilling the chicken. Were Ms. C. to bring out a second edition of this book, I would suggest she provide alternate instructions on either baking or broiling the chicken (Ina Garten is especially good at quick and easy baked chicken recipes.) Similarly, there is practically no way one will be able to make true barbecued pulled pork in less than a few hours. I would also suggest that Ms. C. specify one or more brand names for her salad mixes, and indicate which of these are available from organic farms.
My only other reservation about the book is that in spite of her blurb on the cover which says `...and a few easy-to-find ingredients...' there are some ingredients which may require a visit to a speciality market, such as wasabi peas, logs of goat cheese, and Maytag blue cheese. A good megamart such as Wegmans will certainly have all these items, but Wegmans is only in the Northeast US.