When I was in 3rd grade, I ate lunch with my dad nearly every weekday. Although my school day went to 3 PM, the school didn’t permit children to eat lunch at school until 4th grade. I remember my mom grumbling that this was a conspiracy to keep moms from working outside the home, and she endured it awhile, but finally when her youngest child (me) hit eight, and having been out of the workforce since her oldest child was born (sixteen years earlier) my mom was ready to get back to work. She cobbled together a schedule for me of lunchtime playdates with friends and — since her job didn’t allow her the flexibility to drive home for lunch each day, but my father’s did — Lunch with Dad.
Lunch with Dad was great. We would sit at the dining room table, he at the end and me around the corner next to him, and play double solitaire between bites. I have no recollection of my meals – a rotating menu of sandwiches, I expect — but Dad always made what he dubbed Garbage Salad. He’d start with a plate, a big carrot and maybe one of the enormous white daikon radishes he’d grown in our front yard, and the box grater. He’d grate himself a bed of vegetables, then rummage in the fridge for good-looking leftovers and toss those on top, together with perhaps a scoop of cottage cheese and a sprinkling of peanuts and a splash of vinaigrette. He ate this nearly every day when he was home, the ingredients varying with the seasons and the contents of our refrigerator. Now that I don’t have kids coming home for lunch any more (happily, mine are fed well at school, from kindergarten on), I find myself reaching for the box grater, looking for good leftovers, and composing Garbage Salad, too.
You might want to rename your version of this salad, though sentiment and honesty will always keep it Garbage Salad in my house. As for the ingredients, I find people have strong feelings about cottage cheese, and while I like it well enough I’m not going to risk family harmony by bringing any into the house. Today, my version of Dad’s salad used more salad greens, because our CSA share is bursting with lettuces, plus a shredded beet, a shredded kohlrabi, a tomato, some leftover stir-fried green beans and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I take the time to boil an egg and chop that into the salad, sometimes I toss in some cannellini beans. Tonight, we’re roasting potatoes for dinner, so any leftovers will likely go into tomorrow’s salad. The main thing is to get out that box grater and some shreddable vegetables – carrots, summer squash, beets, kohlrabi, parsley root, radish – and start with that base, because as my Dad taught me, they soak up your vinaigrette and make a delicious bed for just about anything you find to put on top.