Potato Salad

I spent a good portion of this summer eating potato salad—not because I particularly like potato salad, but because I made a enormous batch of Nonnie’s recipe for a party. And while people did eat it, they didn’t devour it in huge quantities—because I think even when potato salad is good, it’s still potato salad, you know?

We were left with, I can’t stress this enough, a simply gargantuan pile of potato salad, a slippery, starchy heap we dutifully chipped away at for the better part of two weeks. (No, the potato salad did not go bad; yes, it was perhaps not at its freshest by the end of its life.) Even months later, I’m still a little traumatized—and very much over even the idea of potato salad. (Partly because of how much I had to eat, and partly because my husband just will not stop quoting that Black Jeopardy sketch where T’Challah tells Karen to keep her bland-ass potato salad to herself, even though it aired in April. I truly hope he’s not equating me with Karen.)

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Cobb Salad (and French Dressing)

Even though I’ve got family in southern California, I’ve always felt that Los Angeles has an uncanny quality to it—something that makes the city feel like it isn’t quite real. Maybe it’s the lack of seasons, or the palm-tree-lined boulevards, or the general happy/healthy vibe (people are… smiling? They… don’t wish death upon every stranger they see?). Or maybe it’s because I once spent a week “taking meetings” out there—i.e. having five lunches at five different bougie restaurants—and at every single lunch, I kid you not, everyone at the table (except me) would order a Cobb salad.

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Waldorf Salad

Isn’t it funny how notions of sophistication change dramatically from decade to decade? In the ’90s, high-end restaurants fell hard for chocolate lava cake. In the ’70s, suburbanites thrilled to tiny skewers, melted cheese, and wife-swapping. In the ’60s, pre-Friedan-era housewives thought that drinking Heineken with dinner would fill the yawning chasm in their souls, or so Mad Men has led me to believe.

And in the late 1890s, a Swiss maître d’ named Oscar Tschirky won over a room of Gilded Age socialites and robber barons with a cutting-edge appetizer that was, essentially, just chicken salad without the chicken. (Tschirky also may have invented Thousand Island Dressing and Eggs Benedict, which mostly makes me think that he was in the pocket of Big Mayonnaise.)

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Beef Ribs and Cole Slaw

Ribs 5

See that, up there? That charred, vaguely carcinogenic square of bone and gristle? That is not, I think, what Nonnie had in mind when writing up her recipe for beef ribs. Beef ribs should look like this: caramelized, glistening, Flintstonian. They should yield meat tender enough to fall off the bone; they shouldn’t be shriveled and tough and sad-looking.

You know what, though? It is nigh on impossible to buy beef ribs in this day and age. Really! I tried! I spent a sweaty summer afternoon trudging from fancy Brooklyn butcher to less fancy Brooklyn butcher, on a quixotic quest to track down the kosher-style protein of my dead grandmother’s Semitic dreams. (Maybe if I’d said that to them, the meat-slingers would have been more accommodating.) I went to four—count ’em, if you happen to have a map of Cobble Hill/Brooklyn Heights handy!—places, all told: two told me I was SOL, one was closed, and one said that it would have beef ribs eventually, but not until the fall. Because… that’s when… a cow loses its baby ribs? I don’t know. Continue reading

Chicken Tostada

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Olé!

This is what you think of when you think of Mexican food, right—iceberg lettuce, red wine vinegar, parsley? Oh, the parsley! Just like I remember from Teotihuacan!

Nevertheless, Nonnie’s take on a chicken tostada—which, it must be noted, appears in the “salad” section of her cookbook, lolololol—is a lot tastier than I thought it’d be. After all, it’s pretty tough to mess up cheese, beans, and chicken; Taco Bell has built a vast fast food empire on that very principle. And it’s even harder to mess up those things when they’re smeared on top of a freshly fried tortilla, one that tastes even better because you made it out of nothing but a regular tortilla and brawn.

All in all, it makes for a satisfying meal that’s relatively light in Nonnie terms (despite, you know, the fried tortilla and melted cheese)—at least, if you only eat one. Which might have flown in the ’60s, but probably doesn’t fly today. Continue reading

Norwegian Salad

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This salad is almost certainly not Norwegian. And frankly, it’s barely a salad.

Well, maybe I’m being too harsh. “Salad” is a term so broad that it’s basically lost all meaning; this, this, this and this all technically qualify, even though they’ve got nothing in common beyond the fact that a) they don’t require a knife to eat, b) they’re served cold or at room temperature, and c) they’ve all got some kind of dressing. Continue reading