Superfoods chefs’ challenge: Tasty and teachable, from Susan Holt


Dried Apricot Souffle. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

This is the second of an occasional series in which Washington area chefs create simple dishes that incorporate nutritious ingredients.

Of the 24 superfoods that our challenge chefs must choose from, Susan Holt’s two selections seemed like easy pickings: beans and dried fruit.

Yet the co-owner of CulinAerie, a cooking school in Logan Circle, admits that using them to create relatively healthful dishes was a bit of a stretch.

Holt, 51, took on the assignment because it’s different from how she normally cooks. “I come from the land of cream and bacon,” she says, referring to her classical French culinary training, not her upbringing in Milan, Tenn.

Changing gears from the threshold of law school to a two-year program at L’Academie d’Cuisine in Gaithersburg in the late 1980s has served her well. Although she loved working at 1789 in Georgetown and for Michelin-star chef Gerard Pangaud at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, Holt appreciated the flexibility of teaching part time at L’Academie when her children were young. “I was able to develop my instructor skills there,” she says.

Still, cooking professionally and being able to relay that experience and knowledge are not always a package deal. In Holt’s case, the disciplines are evenly matched. She’s unflappable and quick on her feet, entertaining yet no-nonsense. She and fellow L’Academie alum Susan Watterson established CulinAerie five years ago and have made it a fun, sociable place to learn the craft, and eat well.

The two entree salad recipes Holt offers here contain ingredients you’ve most likely seen tossed together before. But once you dig into the directions, you are rewarded with small tutorials. She has reduced the acidity in the vinaigrette for her salad with cranberries because of the fruit’s acidity. Allowing canned cannellinis to luxuriate in a mustard-shallot dressing before going into a salad with kale and sausage gives them an extra oomph of flavor.

“Aside from the assertive greens, that salad does contain classic flavors of Gascony and Perigord,” Holt says with a grin. “So I guess it does reflect my taste.”

Her individual souffles, made with the homeliest dried apricots, yield tips en masse. Consequently, they have been rendered almost foolproof. “I know all the pitfalls because I’ve done every one of them,” she says. These are “like eating apricot-flavored air.”

Much of what Holt teaches in her souffle classes is packed into this single, low-fat, gluten-free (minus the garnish of confectioners’ sugar) dessert. The fruit is transformed into a puree, then folded into a simple mix of egg whites and sugar. Her example of “firm peaks” is several clicks less than what the average home cook might end up with. The batter sets up remarkably well — enough to sit in the ramekins through a main course so you can pop them into the oven as you clear the table.

Their rise is glorious. Holt recommends serving them with a dollop of amped-up whipped cream: in part because that’s what a French-trained chef would do, and because the souffles themselves are not that sweet.

But their nutritional analysis is: 150 calories, zero grams of fat.

Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes: washingtonpost.com/recipes.
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