Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ensalada Enlightenment

Salad.  What could be easier than salad?

Seems it depends on your definition of "salad". 

When I start talking about definitions, you know I'm headed toward the difference between North and South (which in itself is an interesting definition, since from where we viewed the world while growing up, almost everywhere in the United States was south). 

Perhaps this is good opportunity to review, for historical reference, where the Mason-Dixon Line falls.  Directly across the bottom of Pennsylvania.  Of which I now live south, but grew up much further north of.  Damn Yankee indeed (you know, those pesky folks from the North who move South and STAY.  DAMN!).  Please be nice about my use of prepositions, Oh Great Grammar Queens.

Anyway, back to "salad". 

In the days of my youth, salad was both a blessing and a curse.  Mom made potato salad (with crunchy celery and peas and hard-boiled eggs, a touch of mustard and vinegar, then a little mayonnaise to hold it all together).  A little mayonnaise.  We also ate tuna salad and chicken salad, usually with celery, onion, pepper, and a little mayonnaise.  A little mayonnaise.

All other salads were diet salads.  The curse of being overweight.  Lettuce and other raw vegetables with a mere Tablespoon of Italian salad dressing. 

Truth be told, I LOVE salad.  I love lettuce, raw veggies, and a mere suggestion of salad dressing.  My mouth waters thinking about lettuce.  Bring on the freshly-ground pepper.  Please, don't put too much anything other than vegetables in my salad.  I even learned to love it with vinegar, hold the oil.

Salad is GREEN.

Even when it's Jello salad - made with gelatin and something else.  Mama Dot made a nice green Jello salad with lettuce for the Christmas Eve Smorgasbord.  I think it had nuts in it as well, probably pistachio.

Welcome to the South, little Dorothy.  You're not in Kansas (or in Maine) any longer.

I've been in Virginia for 15 years now.  I've learned a lot more about salad in these last fifteen years than in the previous thirty.

First of all, we have "Congealed Salad".  This did not sound appealing at all to my northern ears.  Well, turns out Congealed Salad is simply a salad made with fruit (or lettuce!) and gelatin.  OK.  I can love the dish while disliking the name.  Not sure I like the orange gelatin with lettuce, but I LOVE the cranberry with any sort of canned fruit.  FWIW, I'm the de facto Jello Queen at our local Daily Bread.

Next?  Well, all other "salads" here in the south involve mayonnaise.  A LOT of mayonnaise: enough to make my mother blush.  Pasta salad is mayonnaise with elbow macaroni and a few things (pimento and celery) thrown in.  Potato salad is mayonnaise with potato and something green - typically sweet pickles or relish.  Tuna salad is mayonnaise with tuna, celery, salt, and pepper.  When we make tuna salad, I take my portion, then DH adds mayonnaise to his.  It's all about the mayo.

Chicken salad is my favorite, because it's so different everywhere in the south I've been.  My favorite chicken salad was at a deli/restaurant in South Birmingham (Magnolia Something) with BIG chunks of chicken, pecans, celery, apples, and the perfect amount of mayonnaise.  This Thanksgiving we had a phenomenal curried chicken salad from Good Life Gourmet on the Outer Banks.  Somewhere in Hampton Roads I had a dilled chicken salad worthy of a medal.

Oh, wait.  Not ALL salads involve mayonnaise (at least not until dressing is applied).  You can order a "green salad" as a course with your meal at most restaurants - "green" means lettuce and some raw vegetables to which you apply salad dressing.  Ranch is the most popular... simply spiced mayonnaise.  You can also order a Caesar salad, which, when dressed, is... greens with mayonnaise-based dressing.

THEN... we began travelling the swim meet circuit.  Guess you figured it would come back to swimming eventually.

ANYWAY, one of the standard concessions fares at YMCA swim meets here in the southwest portion of Virginia is Pasta Salad.  Pasta salad made with (not mayonnaise) but oil-and-vinegar dressing and anything you might have on hand.  Most typically, it's made with colored rotini and raw veggies like broccoli and cauliflower florets and shredded carrot.  I've seen it with olives, zucchini and summer squash, crumbled feta, and even fresh corn kernels.  It's generally mixed with an oil-and-vinegar dressing, like Italian or Balsamic Viniagrette.

What-the-heck-why-not!  Pasta Salad.  Three things I desperately love.  Pasta, raw veg, and oil/vinegar dressing.

SO... in preparation for the aforementioned Marathon Swim Meet, I made a pasta salad from what was in the fridge.  Used up several raw vegetables, the previous dinner's leftover spaghetti, and the remaining bottle of Balsamic Viniagrette salad dressing.  It was great then, and great today when I ate the last bowl.  Two weeks later.  THIS is a keeper.

What-the-Heck-Why-Not Pasta Salad
(serves several hungry swimmers and their parental chauffeurs, with leftovers)

Cooked pasta.  (We had spaghetti on hand)
Chopped raw vegetables.  (We had carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.  I do NOT recommend onions or garlic with this)
Crumbled, shredded, or cheese in small chunks if you have it.  (We didn't this time)
Cured meat (salami or pepperoni) if you have it, diced small.  (We didn't this time)
Salad dressing (oil-and-vinegar based) to coat.  (We used about 1/2 bottle Balsamic Viniagrette salad dressing left in the fridge)

Keeps (refrigerated) until the raw veggies become soft. 
Does not need to be refrigerated short-term (at least for the duration of Marathon Swim Meets).


MOM said...

Laughed 'til tears ran down my cheeks!

I remember Mama Dot's salad as made with cabbage and cherries. Ellen said it had celery, too, so that's what I put in for Christmas in Dover. I didn't have any because it never got to my end of the table!

Accidental Artisan said...

Right. CABBAGE. The celery was the crunch, not nuts. Cherries. That's right. Cabbage. Lettuce would get too wimpy. Might have to make some soon. Wonder how my Daily Bread friends will like it... my next gig's Tuesday!

Accidental Artisan said...

Nice comment from my friend KK which I inadvertently deleted instead of posting...

Fun post!
Harv's mom's Christmas Salad tops all. Cubes of red and green jello, whole marshmallows cut into quarters (mini marshmallows don't work the same), canned fruit cocktail, and sliced bananas all folded into freshy whipped cream.

Yes, it is served as a side dish at Christmas Dinner. Aaron thinks he is in heaven.

Over the years, we have also had various frozen type "salads" which are generally individual molds of some type of creamy jello thing served over a piece of lettuce and with a maraschino cherry on top held on by a dollop of Miracle Whip (in Arkansas it is Miracle Whip over mayonnaise!)