Hope’s Garlic Salad, California Style

My family has a few recipes that incorporate a good dish and some personal culinary history including my Mom’s homemade bread (which she learned to make from Mama Ruth, my Dad’s grandmother). Mama Ruth’s namesake granddaughter and my aunt has graciously shared her garlic salad dressing recipe with us, although we’ve changed it up a bit. Her sisters created the original recipe which my grandmother Hope made for many years for get togethers focused on food. I remember so many Fourth of July parties, Christmases, and other family get togethers with a big wooden bowl full of green salad intense with garlic. The wood of the bowl was dark from having hosted countless iterations of this flavorful salad, a favorite with many in my family.

Unfiltered and Organic Foods Trump Filtered and Industrial Foods Any Day

When she sent the recipe, Auntie Ruth emphasized the need to use a light oil and to not be tempted into using olive oil to gourmet-ize the dish. Because I want to avoid using the refined, denatured vegetable oil so common in the industrial diet that so many Americans consume (e.g., canola, safflower, soybean, corn and other “vegetable” oils), I consulted with Courtney Coleman of Cook Well to make a healthy substitution for this recipe if olive oil was off the menu. Courtney recommends using only unrefined (extra virgin) oils rather than refined oils. For this recipe, she suggested using unrefined versions of the following oils: sesame, almond, apricot kernel, walnut, avocado, and grapeseed oil. I opted for grapeseed oil because we already have a bottle of this light green-colored oil in our kitchen. Also, the compost enthusiast in me likes the fact that spent wine grapes, once they’ve given their lives to become wine, can be used to make another gourmet product.

the spices provide good friction for mixing into the garlic bits

Another reason it’s smart to transition your personal cooking and eating habits away from oils produced in the industrial food system is that, when heated, these unrefined oils don’t form long train trans fatty acids as happens with vegetable oil and other highly refined oils, even those labeled as “trans-fat free.” The refined vegetable oils used in so many industrial foods such as packaged chips, cookies, and crackers as well as most restaurant foods are now known to form long chain trans fatty acids under heat, which, in conjunction with saturated fat, blocks the arteries.

I also want to use the nicest vinegar in my pantry—a bottle of Pacific Spice from Chaparral Gardens Artisan Vinegars—rather than the generic red wine vinegar in the original recipe. Vary your vinegars for different tastes. How many specialty vinegars call your kitchen “home”?

Useful Kitchen Tool: Garlic Press

Mr. Spice and I are eating much more garlic since we’ve been growing it in our apartment garden. As such, I found myself culinarily curious about garlic presses. Upon doing a little research, I learned that uniform pieces of garlic in the sauté pan makes for more consistent flavor in the final dish. The Swiss company Kuhn Rikon nicely sent us their Epicurean Garlic Press to demo for this article. We really like this kitchen tool because it’s precise, easy to use, and easy to clean. The engineering on this garlic press is solid, sleek, and efficient both in the crushing of consistently pressed garlic and in cleaning out the hopper and freeing up the press holes from garlic clogs. I never liked the laborious cleaning process with most presses because a tool should save time from use through cleanup. We’re liking the easy-to-clean features of this tool, a key component.

Hope’s Garlic Salad, California Style


  • 1/4 cup unfiltered, organic grapeseed oil
  • a scant 1/4 cup of Pacific Spice vinegar
  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • thinly sliced cucumber
  • red, green, and/or yellow peppers
  • chopped celery
  • sliced radishes
  • sliced tomato
  • hand-torn crisp lettuce

Finely cut or press 1-2 cloves of fresh garlic into large wooden salad bowl. Generously shake salt and pepper on the garlic in the bowl. Using a wooden utensil, crush the garlic by dragging it up from the center of the bowl over the salt and pepper. Continue until it is crushed through. Salt & pepper act as friction in crushing garlic with the end of the wooden utensil. (This utensil will forever be what one uses to crush garlic—garlic smell & taste will linger on the utensil. Use a spoon you won’t be using for baking sweets.)

Pour oil and vinegar over the garlic, salt and pepper. Continue to crunch garlic more into the wine/vinegar by dragging it with the tip of the wooden utensil from the center up the sides of the bowl. Add more salt and pepper for the friction effect. Add all the vegetables except the lettuce and allow these to rest in the dressing at bottom of bowl. for a few minutes. On top of the vegetables, add cold, crisp lettuce of your choice hand-torn to “bite size.” Don’t cut lettuce with a knife.

Just before serving, toss gently. Add more salt & pepper as needed after tossing. Add other vegetables of your choice. Auntie Ruth likes black olives and anchovies, if that’s your thing: carrots are usually not in this salad but of course can be if desired.

Serve with pasta and garlic bread or ANYTHING you want!

Needs More Garlic: The Gilroy Garlic Festival

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