“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”—Lewis Grizzard
“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”—Brian O’Driscoll
It is fresh garden tomato season! As a child, I never ate tomatoes—or much of any other vegetable for that matter. (Of course, I love vegetables now!) Nonetheless, I have many fond memories surrounding tomatoes. To begin, both of my grandparents and my Dad grew tomato plants. They babied, coddled, and cared for those plants as if they were precious and rare gems. At the time, I could not understand why. Now, I have a MUCH greater appreciation for their actions.
When that first tomato arrived on the vine and was ultimately picked, I watched with wonder, as one of the grown-ups in my life would slice the red globe with care. Next, the tomato would be arranged in a fanned-out circular fashion on a small, plate and carefully salted.
“Salt brings the sweetness out, Stethie,” my Grandmother Helen would explain to me.
During dinner, depending upon if I was eating dinner with my grandparents or at home, I would observe the adults in my life eating freshly sliced tomato alongside whatever else we were eating. Oh, to-be-sure, there were plenty of grilled hamburgers and BLT sandwiches served when the tomatoes began ripening, but I never stopped being astonished at the fact that most influential adults in my life ate plain tomato slices with salt only.
Later, my Aunt Patty, from the faraway land of Denton, TX, introduced our family to a new tradition–Western Salad. This was such a simple recipe that really brought out the tang, zest, and sweetness of a freshly picked garden tomato. It was actually one of the first ways I learned to eat tomato. Western salad became a HUGE hit in our family. It was sure to be served at most summer gatherings even when Aunt Patty, my Uncle Ralph, and their kids (my cool cousins) were not in town. To this day, John, my husband, and I, still nosh on Western Salad throughout the hot months of the year. It is now our summer tradition—going well with steak, grilled chicken, hamburgers, and so forth.
Of course, like all family recipes, they change and evolve through time. Therefore, I am not sure if the recipe I share with you is the exact same recipe that Aunt Patty made all those years ago, but it adheres to the basic ingredients as best I recall. What I love about this recipe is that it lends itself to modification to fit most any dietary/lifestyle needs. Don’t like or want beans, leave them out. Don’t like or need chips, leave them out. Want to add in grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp, go right ahead. A good recipe lends itself to modification—and this is a great one—at least to John and me!
From my home to yours, I wish you happy, HEALTHY, and homemade fun!
Aunt Patty’s Famous Western Salad
Serves 4-6, depending upon size of lettuce and portion of serving
1 head lettuce (Check that it feel solids and heavy.)
1 large tomato, diced (A freshly grown garden tomato tastes best.)
1 can of Bush’s Vegetarian beans (Feel free to leave beans out if they do not adhere to your dietary needs or you do not like them.)
¼- ½ Catalina or Red French dressing (can be reduced-fat or fat-free)
1-cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (can be reduced-fat or fat-free)
Fritos, or any other corn based chip to taste—we love chili cheese flavor (This can be omitted based on dietary needs.)
Optional add-ins: diced green pepper, diced purple or other sweet onion, and/or chopped red cabbage
Chop or tear entire head of lettuce into large salad bowl.
Dice large garden tomato and add to salad bowl.
Slightly drain beans, if using—do not rinse and add to salad.
If using any other additional vegetables, chop/dice and add those.
Gently stir-in Catalina or Red French dressing, a little at a time, until you get the desired amount. Vegetables should be lightly coated, but not drenched.
Top with shredded cheese.
Serve immediately, and top with desired amount Fritos.