For years, I have had several “go-to” items that I make for gatherings and get-togethers: mashed potatoes, potato salad, green bean casserole, or dessert. As far as dessert goes, my signature recipe has been key lime pie since 1994. I think I’ve written about this before, when I made one for my Northern family. I was pregnant with our first child at the time, and my older brother teased me about how tart the pie was. Perhaps I did add a little extra key lime zest for added zip. Nevertheless, everyone, including my brother, as much as he may still remind me of that first pie, has always loved my key lime pies and it is something that I usually make and bring when we have a gathering that gives no specifics as to what they need; after all, everyone needs key lime pie, don’t they? Or should I say, everyone needed key lime pie, didn’t they? Quite frankly, as of last summer I got sick of making them. And eating them. They have lost their zip, as far as I am concerned.
Living in the South, I noticed something about the typical foods here versus where I hail from: down here, many of them are very similarly coloured versus up North, where there seems to be more of a variety of hues. This was blatantly illustrated at the last two family reunions we attended. Last year, my Southern Man’s side of the family got together. He did not attend; the kids and I knew only a handful of people; that is a whole other story. Regardless, we had a good time, but I did notice something that I’d noticed before, perhaps, but that became really obvious as I looked at the spread of food: almost everything was various shades of cream, yellow, beige, or tan. From the fried catfish to the mashed potatoes to the fried okra to the macaroni and cheese dishes (and there were several) to the casseroles to the beans to the casseroles, almost everything looked like it was from the same general area of the colour wheel. Except…for my salad. It was green. Not the sickly-looking, over-cooked canned green beans or peas green, but rich, vibrant green. Healthy green. Alive green.
This is a typical Southern buffet-style restaurant. Granted, they do have salad bars. And dessert bars. No drinking bars, though. I’m not a huge fan of Southern buffet-style restaurants–and not just because of the lack of the latter bar. This is what I mean by homogeneously-coloured food.
One week later, we were up in Massachusetts at a family reunion of my Mom’s side of the family. The foods were American or, of course, Armenian/Middle Eastern. While I didn’t get a picture of the whole spread, this about sums it up in terms of colour:
Now that, folks, is a culinary colour wheel, courtesy of one of my many, mmmany talented cousins. Granted not everything we ate was totally healthy or outside of the yellow/cream/beige/tan colour family (see the photo below), but there was definitely a marked difference between my Southern family’s spread and my Northern, more ethnic family’s spread. So much variety, and the colours were not the only palette; there was also a palette of flavours and textures and it was all so very yummy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t enjoy Southern food, but it is not high on my list of favorite cuisines.
Down here in Alabama, I’m once again becoming known (at least in my small circles) for my salads, now that I’ve quit my key lime pie making. When I first got married, I was sort of amused at what my Southern Man’s family’s salads consisted of: iceberg lettuce with 2 or 3 other vegetable, all put in separate bowls, and topped with ranch dressing…BORING. My grandmother on my Dad’s side made a salad very similar: iceberg lettuce, bland tomatoes, and maybe some celery, all in one bowl, topped with plain oil and vinegar dressing. She was a huge fan of a totally bland diet, but because she was a grandma, it was still good. Just boring. The only spices she ever used were salt and pepper. Onions and garlic were nowhere to be seen. Hot and spicy–fuhgeddaboudit!
On my Mom’s side of the family, however, the still-farming side, bland and boring didn’t exist very often. Salads on that side of the family were made up of some type of lettuce, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, celery, carrots, scallion/green onions (which I didn’t know the English name for until I was in my teens-we always called it “sohhkghgh”-hard to spell that one) various types of bell peppers, and so on, covered with some sort of oil and vinegar dressing or whatever. Needless to say, it was neither bland in taste nor boring in colour. My Mom’s side is the one I take after when it comes to salad making among other things, none of which are bland or boring, food-related or otherwise. We are not bland, boring people on that side, that’s for sure. As they say, you are what you eat. 🙂
When I made my first salad for my Southern Man’s family, it had pretty much everything I listed above, except I like to add chick peas and don’t usually have scallions. It was a hit, at least with some of the family. Making salads that way, though, can get time-consuming, especially when you’re in a hurry, so last year I decided to go simple and found a recipe for a salad that has become my new signature “go-to” item and is healthier than key lime pie or many other foods I could make. I made it for my Southern Man’s family reunion and an outdoor gathering for our church and it was a huge hit, especially at the church picnic. I just made it again this morning for a ladies’ luncheon at our church this afternoon and it was devoured, raved about, and the recipe was requested. I’m not bragging, because I didn’t develop the recipe; I just happened to find a winner in my internet travels.
Because it’s so late, I’m not going to post it tonight, but I will tell you that it involves maple syrup. Being a New Englander, anything with maple syrup is simply. Awesome. I could drink the stuff if it wasn’t so expensive. Then there’s that whole blood sugar thing. Anyway, I will post the salad recipe and the dressing that accompanies it, tomorrow. Until then….