We were a salad family.
My parents put salad on the table every night for dinner. Whether or not we had other vegetables, no matter what the main dish was. Every. Single. Night. There was salad.
I interviewed my mom about this recently, asking if salad was an intentional point of parenting with her and my dad. Did they decide together that we’d be Salad Kids? “No,” she explained, “we both had history of lettuce.” (Which is one of the best things my mom has ever said.) Both of my parents grew up with salad, albeit in different incarnations, so when kids came along, salad was simply instinctual.
Mom, daughter of southern Italian immigrants, grew up with a pile of salad on the main plate alongside whatever else was served. (There was a lot of beef. My grandfather was a butcher. A salad-loving butcher. Total heart-eyes emoji, right??) So to us, she offered the following: iceberg (upgraded to romaine in the 90’s, which blew my mind); parmesan; salt & pepper; olive oil & red wine vinegar. Always and only red wine vinegar.
Dad, son of generations of New England farmers, grew up with a sort of first course/crudités/relish tray kind of salad. (Is this more European? Gentleman farmer?) His salad: same lettuces, plus carrots, radishes, tomatoes, celery, onion, whatever was in the crisper, and whatever bottled dressings were around.
No matter who made the salad, we all ate it. We all liked it. (And as I type this I wonder how crazy that is. Is it crazy?)
And only recently in my adulthood have I realized that not every family is a salad family.
My family now — the little nuclear one that consists of Danny, Jack, and me — we’re sort of an occasional salad family. We salad in spurts. Jack still does not understand how salad works and has no interest in finding out at this time, and though Danny is a lover of salad he didn’t grow up with it every night, so no one feels the particular green, leafy pangs of its absence except me.
Maybe that’s what happens when you grow up a Salad Kid. You freaking love salad for life.
And I do. Any meal without salad feels like cheating, and not in a cool, rebellious way. I need a crunchy, cold green with a bright, memorable dressing. It completes a meal the way brushing your teeth completes a morning routine. Dinner’s just not ready without it.
So today I’m excited and nervous to share this with you. This is my childhood in a jar, basically. I’m feeling a little vulnerable in sharing it because I really want you to like it. I want you to be a Salad Kid with me. Call me a goody two-shoes, call me a dork. Happily eating salad together is dorky as hell until you have a kid. Then it’s a life goal. And maybe this will make your kids into Salad Kids! (So far it has been successful in making Jack a Carrot Coin Kid, which doesn’t have the same ring, but the satisfaction is similar.)
Though this is my childhood in a jar, it’s not the precise recipe my mom used. She was strictly about olive oil and vinegar, then salted & peppered (and mayyyybe oregano-ed) the salad in a different step. Of course none of that was a recipe, just spirited together by feeling. Also, though I’m usually wary of raw garlic in a dressing (I love it but too much gives me a headache), the other ingredients here really do tame it nicely. Or, one of those otherwise really annoying tiny cloves of garlic in the center of the head would be handy here, or you could even grate a bit of shallot instead. For those who hate mayo (I know you’re out there, my husband is one), know that the mayonnaise here functions as a binder; there’s not nearly enough in this to make it creamy. Try it out!
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 clove garlic, grated (on a Microplane is easiest)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt & pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Add salt & pepper to taste, then taste again for sharpness/softness. Add a small amount of vinegar if you’d like it more sharp; add more oil and/or mayo to soften the bite as desired. Note that this will meld and taste rounder as it sits. Store in the fridge in a jar for up to one week. (You will finish all of it sooner than that.)
What’s your history with lettuce, as my mom would say? Were you a salad family? Are you a Salad Kid? (Do you have a Salad Kid? If yes, please tell me all about it!)
- baked goods
- beans + legumes
- dinner party
- gluten free
- make ahead
- pregnant food
- roasted stuff
- special occasions
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