I’d eaten at Tim’s approximately two times when I started to sense a theme. When that guy makes a salad, he makes it a particular way. Maybe everybody does this? Over the following years and months, I’ve eaten this same basic salad with him alongside grilled cheese sandwiches, at fancy dinners we’ve thrown for friends, during Sunday night barbecues, on lazy weeknights and in many spaces in between. I’ve eaten it so many times with him that it’s truly become our salad, the one we always make, the fallback, the standby, the one we’re calling The House Salad, with Cucumbers and Tomatoes.
The thing I like about calling this salad The House Salad is that it takes what some might call a rut and turns it into a tradition. I mean, when you see “house salad” on a menu, you don’t think lame; you think specialty (or at least, I do). You could say calling a salad the house salad is a little like calling it the Margherita at a Neapolitan pizza place or the Classic at a local burger joint. It’s the trusted, the tested, the sort of thing you can count on to work. In a world that ever prizes the new and the flashy, I suppose it’s our tendency to overlook anything we have in ready supply: daylight, gasoline, stocked grocery stores, time with our spouses or friends, everyday salads, sleep. But while of course there’s nothing wrong with finding pleasure in the extraordinary, finding pleasure in the regular is also no small thing. I mean, most of our lives are made up of everydays. If we find joy in their many small moments, how much richer our lives may be.
The House Salad with Cucumbers and Tomatoes
Serves three to four
The idea of a family house salad fascinates me for the same reasons people’s grocery carts do: I like to learn about people. As human beings, so much of what we do is biographical. So much of how we live reveals who we are. While I grew up with iceberg lettuce (later, mixed greens), sliced onions and tomatoes in salads (with dressings added at our plates, since we all liked different ones), for example, Tim grew up with diverse leafy greens, and today he and his brother can pick out the differences in mizuna and frisee. Such a picture of our upbringings! What about your family, both the one you grew up in and the one you’re building today? Did you/do you have a certain salad as a default?
Red or green leaf lettuce (or sometimes Romaine)
Grape tomatoes (or other tomatoes), chopped
Cucumber, sliced as thinly as possible
Broccoli sprouts (optional)
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
So here is how you make the Mallon house salad: Get out your biggest bowl, and wash and tear enough leaf lettuce to almost fill it to the top. Add chopped tomatoes and thinly sliced cucumber. Add sprouts, if using. Toss it all together with your hands. Drizzle a few glugs of olive oil and a few generous splashes of balsamic; toss. Taste and see what needs to be increased. Salt and pepper; taste again.