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.

House Salad | Food Loves Writing
Salad with Tomatoes & Cucumbers | Food Loves Writing
salads

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?

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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.

Cooksnaps
Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Jacqui

    We never ate salad with dinner growing up. Or bread. There was the main dish, always with rice, often with a bowl of some other leftovers, sometimes a side of generously salted tomato wedges. A culture thing, I suppose — Filipino food doesn’t include traditional salads. Now, I eat salads mainly for lunch. Lately, mixed greens or butter lettuce with some kind of bean, radishes, avocado, whatever else I can find in the fridge, and a honey mustardy dressing. I like the idea of you guys having a house salad.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Lan | morestomach

    we didn’t have salads growing up, but there would always be a plate of pickled vegs of some kind to go alongside the main dish, with rice, and always a brothy soup (think miso) to help wash down the food (we also did not drink water with our meal, as it made you full. this is still something i struggle with now as an adult.) i will say that i have a massive appreciation for random leafy greens like cilantro, chives, and watercress which were usually picked at as we ate. salad dressing was not something i had much of until i was in college.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Interesting! I especially like the idea of pickled vegetables on the side — I just saw a recipe in Bon Appetit for “marinated vegetables,” which are sort of a quick version of the same idea, and I thought how good those would be with main courses. Also, love that you have a massive appreciation for those leafy greens.

  3. Molly @WonderlandK

    Ha! Yes, I so hear this. I had one of those small but powerful kitchen revelations once where I–standing knife in hand, chasing carrot rounds about the cutting board–finally asked myself why I was doing this. I hate carrot chunks in salads and we had been eating them that way for years. The next time I was visiting family, I looked down at my mom’s salad, still the same lettuce, tomato, black olives, croutons…still the same carrot rounds. Goodbye to all that. House salads here are now green and crunchy: lettuces, celery, peas, avocado, cucumbers, chick peas, and pumpkin seeds. Lemon tahini dressing or mustard vinaigrette if I’m feeling motivated.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Ha! You know, come to think of it, I’m pretty sure we had carrots in our salads, too! Your current house salads—particularly the description of them as “green and crunchy”—sound just wonderful.

  4. Joanna

    We had salad a lot growing up–usually romaine or mixed greens–almost always with cherry tomatoes, but what made it our “house salad” was my mom’s toasted almond slices and either fresh feta or grated parmesan. To this day, people ask my mom to bring salad to dinner not for the greens, but for the toasted almonds and cheese.

  5. sara

    Yum! This looks fantastic. My mom does a pretty similar salad with many meals – either lettuce or baby spinach, tomatoes, feta cheese, sometimes cucumbers, and these amazing croutons from a bakery near my Dad’s work. I don’t think I really have a house salad, but I want to be better about incorporating more salads into my meals! Probably what I make the most often is grated carrot with lemon, oil, salt, and pepper, and maybe some other stuff stirred in (feta, fresh herbs, shaved fennel are all awesome add-ins).

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Sara, There is this French restaurant near where my parents live, and with the bread that comes before the meal, they bring a carrot salad. I LOVE THAT SALAD! I even remade it here on the blog (it’s somewhere in the archives) and thinking about it now has me craving it all over again.

  6. felicia | Dish by Dish

    A house salad! Loved that you and Tim have a salad that’s uniquely yours. Like Lan & Jaqui, I grew up in an Asian family for whom rice was a staple. In my house growing up, if ever we had an Asian salad, it was bak choi either stir-fried or steamed.

    But my mum loved salads, and while we didn’t eat much Western-style raw veggie salads at home, I’d watch her relish fresh greens and other raw vegetables tossed in various different salad dressings whenever we went out for an International buffet. If was only till I re-located to Argentina that I understood her love for salads.

    Now, one of my favorite, salad staples is this – a really simple combination of all the loveliest flavors, using the freshest of vegetables, straight from the market. Imagine this: the spiciness of dark green arugula leaves intertwined with the tastes of the forest from sliced button mushrooms, then mixed with the sweet, juicy pulp of freshly cut tomatoes and crunchy rich wholesome walnuts. On top of all these, add warm, toasted croutons just out of the oven, and then toss all the ingredients with salt, vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

    Happy Friday!

  7. Lindsey @ Pas de Deux

    Shanna, I had never realized how many family memories could be evoked by thinking about “house salads” but these memories are flooding in as I sit here reflecting on your post…

    I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, but in my house growing up (pre-high school, really), the go-to salad was usually the pre-made bag that included romaine, carrots, and purple cabbage, usually topped with ranch dressing. Later this evolved into something much more like your recipe here.

    My aunt has always made the most beautiful salads because she focuses on “color balance.” I can remember her glancing over my shoulder to look at the salad bowl I was preparing and saying “Oh, we need a bit of red/yellow/other color to balance it out!” and then digging in the fridge for a vegetable of the appropriate color.

    My grandmom always threw in some kumquats from her neighbors trees. The first night we arrived in town when we visited them in Tampa, FL, we almost always ate lasagna and salad, always with kumquats. Grandmom would sneak bites from her plate to her dog, Babette, a white standard poodle, who was always waiting under the table.

    I have not yet developed my own “house salad”… a goal, perhaps, for my husband and I to explore?

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Ha! No embarrassment here, Lindsey. (I don’t think I even knew what avocados were until I was 20, and I was eating bagged salads, too.) Premade bags are a great gateway salad. : ) I love your aunt’s idea for color balance, and I’m SO JEALOUS of anyone near anyone with a kumquat tree. It’s funny how these house salads evolve over time: We keep doing something over and over until, one day, we look back, and it’s ours.

  8. Lyndsey

    It was Caesar Salad at our house! My brother didn’t like all the “extras” but he loved cheese and croutons. So it would be iceberg lettuce, tossed with parmesan cheese, Cavendar’s seasoning, lots of crunchy croutons and a big dollop of Neuman’s Caesar dressing. When everyone had served themselves, my brother just dug into the serving bowl and finished it off. It is indeed a picture of growing up – my mom knew us kids like the back of her hand and loved to fix things the way we liked them. But she always challenged us to try new things – we had to have at least one bite of everything she had made. (Like the time we were at someone else’s house and we were served tomato sandwiches, which we HATED – and she discreetly gave us the death glare ;) until we politely choked it down for our host) Now every time I eat a great big spinach salad with lots of “extras” (now my favorite), I think of my brother, my family, our dinner table. Thanks for a thoughtful post!!

  9. Katie (A Fork in Hand)

    I’m loving being able to read about everyone’s house salads! Shanna, I think you’re absolutely right that each person’s recipe reveals a little bit about them. So interesting! As for me, our house salad varies quite a bit by the season, but it nearly always starts with a base of mixed baby greens, roasted pepitas, and chopped olives with a garlicky lemon-olive oil vinaigrette.

  10. Kathryn

    Our house salad is very similar – sometimes subbing in lemon juice for the balsamic depending on what we’re having. I particularly love olive oil and lemon with peppery leaves like arugula. So fascinating reading about other people’s traditions too.

  11. Pingback: a nutritionist eats » Blog Archive quick gluten-free lunch ideas » a nutritionist eats

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