Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hodge Podge Salad

Today I'm going to talk about salad. No, not the kind involving greens with some other stuff thrown on top along with a drizzle of dressing. That's not difficult for most people to put together (though it can be very time consuming, depending on what you like to have in your salad). The kind of salad I'm talking about is the kind where you mix together bite-sized ingredients that's held together by mayonnaise (or mayonnaise-like substance). Think potato salad, egg salad, chicken salad, etc.

In fact, I'm currently reading Two for the Road by Jane and Michael Stern, and this is the kind of salad that would fit quite nicely in salad bars in Iowa: "Salad bars in Iowa do not hold a shred of lettuce. Instead they carry things such as multicolored Jell-O, fruits and vegetables slathered with Miracle Whip or sour cream, and chocolate, tapioca, and vanilla puddings."

The recipe I'm sharing today may not look very fancy. It may not sound very fancy. It doesn't even have a name -- my grandmother just called it "salad" -- so I've given it one. But it has the most important quality I look for in food: it's delicious. And it's a dish near and dear to my heart, as it's something my grandmother used to make when I was a little girl. I don't know how she got it into her head to make this, or if she got the recipe from somewhere, but I'm glad she did.

A quick review of the ingredients may turn some people off. Believe me, I'd be one of those people had I not already tried it without any biases. I am specifically referring to, of course, Miracle Whip. Those who don't like mayonnaise-type dressings are already gagging, and even those who DO like mayonnaise are gagging, because a majority of people, I've found, prefer 'real' mayonnaise. In fact, I don't think I have ever heard of anyone stand up for Miracle Whip, and yet the product is still on the shelves, so someone must be buying it.

I am not here to defend Miracle Whip in a general sense. If I'm eating a sandwich or making ranch dressing, or probably 99% of other uses for mayonnaise, I prefer 'real' mayonnaise (homemade, if possible). But I've tried using mayonnaise in this dish. It doesn't work. The resulting product tastes bland, boring, unappetizing. Using Miracle Whip makes it delicious every time. Why that is, I don't know. But it works. And you don't have to fear -- using Miracle Whip in this salad not only transforms the salad, but transforms the Miracle Whip. You don't actually taste the dressing, but the combination of salad ingredients. It's as if you used mayonnaise, but added a few other undefinable seasonings as well. Make this for a potluck. It'll get rave reviews and it'll look so simple that people will go home and try to make it themselves. But somehow it won't taste the same as yours; it won't be the same as yours. And they'll be befuddled, because it's just 4 ingredients and some mayo; what did they do wrong? And only you and I will know that the difference was Miracle Whip.

There was something special about the way my grandmother made it that imitators find difficult to duplicate. I think the secret is its simplicity. My mom tried various ways of 'improving' on it, only to be told that it wasn't as good as grandma's. The ingredients that go into the salad, as well as the way in which they are cooked, are very particular in that they create the perfect texture that this salad is supposed to have. Nothing should stand out. When you're eating it, it should be a mouthful of yummyness, with no single ingredient distinguishing itself from the rest (such as the time my mom tried using raw carrots).

I don't have a precise recipe to share. I make it a little different every time. The quantities of the ingredients you use also depend on personal preference and how much you're making. There are 5 primary ingredients to this salad: ham (the Oscar Mayer kind), eggs, carrots, celery, and the aforementioned Miracle Whip. You can add peas, maybe some corn, maybe finely diced potato, without changing it too much. Anything else and it becomes a different salad entirely. In fact, if you add too much potato, it becomes a glorified potato salad. I recommended just sticking with the 5 primary ingredients for the best flavor and texture.

Now, how to go about putting it all together? Get a large bowl. The ham is the easiest part. All you need to do is chop it up into little bite-sized squares (it's conveniently already in the shape of a square, so I just slice it into rows on the vertical, then the horizontal) and place it in the bowl. The eggs need to be hard boiled. Then they too are sliced into bite-sized pieces and placed in the bowl. Include as much or as little egg yolk as you like. It has great nutritional value, but also a lot of cholesterol. The carrots should be peeled, then boiled to the point that they aren't crunchy anymore, but aren't mushy. They should still give a slight resistance to the tooth. The same goes for the celery. Celery in particular cooks very quickly, so all you need to do with them is basically blanch them for a minute in hot water. Both the carrots and celery should then be diced into -- you guessed it -- bite-sized pieces.

Now scoop out some Miracle Whip and add it to the bowl. (If you MUST use regular mayonnaise, you'll need to add some salt at the very least to bring out the flavor of the salad.) Mix well and add more dressing if needed. Since mayo and its ilk are all calorie fests, I like to add a bit at a time to make sure I'm using the minimum needed to make the salad come together. It shouldn't be gloopy with dressing, but the mixture should be well coated. Here's another important step: put it in the fridge. It will be very tempting to eat it straightaway, but it won't be as good. This salad needs to be given the time for the different flavors to mingle and served cold.

When I told my mom I was making it, she was like, but I thought you didn't really like mayo. And I said, yes, that's true, but I LOVE this salad, I don't know why. And she said, "Well, everybody likes it." That's really all that needs to be said.

1 comment:

Alicia K said...

I grew up loving Miracle Whip! I rarely, if ever, had regular mayo as a child. Now that I am a fully grown woman, I have finally discovered the joys of regular mayo and have temporarily put away the Miracle Whip.