Another thing I did this weekend was make Mexican Salad for a barbeque I attended in Brooklyn. I should confess that this is the third week in a row that I have made this salad and each time it got better - this last batch was the best by far. It is a really simply salad to whip together and is somehow impressive, even if you show up at the party carrying your salad in a ziploc bag (transporting a pretty bowl full of salad from the A train to the L train, not to mention the blocks of walking, is no easy task):
Last weekend I made this salad and sent half of it on a cross-country road trip with my brother to save him from too many greasy drive through meals. I actually remember a bit of the history of this salad - a number of years ago my mom gave me the recipe to make it for a party. I believe the party occurred while I was still in law school and I know for certain it occurred at Michele's parent's house. We served the salad as a dip with tortilla chips and people were scraping the bowl for the last remnants - it was that good.
A few years ago (okay, five!) I was living with my sister and our brother decided to live in our extra bedroom for the summer. We cooked together a lot that summer and I have a vivid memory of all of us, with a friend or two, sitting around our kitchen table with a leftover bowl of this salad and some chips in the middle, chatting and scraping the bowl clean.
Over the years I have made a variety of versions of it, depending on what is available. Probably the biggest variable has been the dressing. The original recipe called for Thousand Island dressing but I have tossed in everything from Italian to Catalina to nothing at all with success. But what I stumbled onto this weekend is what really put the salad over the top for me and made it the star of the barbeque (except for those bacon wrapped dates someone brought, how can I compete with bacon?).
But enough build-up, I'm sure you are wondering how to try this salad for yourself, right?
Get a really large bowl and just start tossing in the following ingredients:
1 can drained and rinsed kidney beans
1 can drained and rinsed black beans
1 can drained and rinsed red beans*
1/2 can sliced olives
2-3 tomatoes (depending on size)
2-3 ears fresh sweet corn (just cut the corn kernals off the ear and dump them in)
2-3 ripe avocados
romaine lettuce (or you can use the pre-cut bagged version to make it easier)
cilantro to taste
squeeze of lime to taste
dressing of your choice - recipe of my choice is below
*really, you can use whatever variety of beans you choose or all one type. I used white catalini, black and kidney beans in this batch but I love chick peas and red beans as well. I pretty much always use kidney and the other beans rotate depending on what is in my cupboard.
**if you are going for color you can use a mix of cheddar and monterey jack (which also tastes great) but if you are wanting to keep the fat content down then I opt for a low fat mozerella
Creamy Tomatillo Dressing:
Those of you from Utah will recognize this recipe as a variation of the Tomatillo dressing of Cafe Rio fame. I have to, modestly, suggest that this is even better. One fellow bbq attendee loved it so much she was smearing it on her turkey burger, her veggies and pretty much anything that landed on her plate that night. I was proud. Below is the recipe with my alterations to follow:
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 package ranch buttermilk dry seasoning
3/4 to 1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
4-5 sprigs fresh cilantro
4-6 tomatillos (medium - large size)
1-2 garlic cloves
Just dump everything into a blender and blend away until you get the right texture. I started out thinking I had everything requested but when I opened my ranch buttermilk seasoning I realized I had a problem - moisture had found its way into the jar and it was no longer useable. Pretty sad considering this jar of ranch was transported from Utah by friends who surprised me with a fabulous faux Cafe Rio dinner one night while they were visiting and left this jar for me under my pillow upon their departure. After their homemade version, I was convinced they knew how to make the best tomatillo so I made a call Saturday requesting further instructions. Their secret ingredient - aside from the Ranch mix, which was now bad? - jalapenos. Of course, to give it some kick.
It was 10 pm Saturday night and I had no desire to go to the store to buy replacement ranch mix so I googled for a substitute instead. I didn't have dry celery root but I figured I could toss in the other stuff and hope for the best: minced onion, garlic powder, salt & pepper.
I nibbled on a piece of one of the jalapenos I had picked up and decided they were mild enough to toss in three. I deseeded them to keep them on the milder side. To my palate it was perfection - just enough of a kick to wake up my mouth but mild enough to present it to strangers without fear of scarring them. If it was for me alone, I probably would have added another jalapeno or two but I also didn't want to overwhelm all the other tasty flavors going on in there. I then added the juice of half a lime for good measure and let it sit overnight in the fridge.
The result - simple, crowd pleasing deliciousness. Please work this onto your menu in the next few weeks while fresh ingredients are aplenty. Serve it with tortilla chips and try to sit outside before the weather gets too cool. You will not be disappointed.
P.S. If you want to serve this as a main course and you or someone with whom you will be dining prefers a meatier meal, a simple solution is to purchase a rotisserie chicken. We did this a couple of weeks ago when I made it for friends at the beach house with great success. We (or should I say - Tiffany) simply pulled the meat off the bone and it shredded nicely and was a tasty addition to the salad.