Summer’s here, and soon the garden will be bursting with all things fresh and good. Neighbors start leaving anonymous bags of surplus tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini; and the searing heat makes thoughts of a cool refreshing salad sound like the perfect meal. Here’s a few suggestions from James Dean’s friends on the best ways to top your salad and keep that swim suit figure in shape. (Disclaimer: practically none of these recipes qualify as “diet” food…but I always figure that the amount of other healthy, raw, and nutritious ingredients, balance that out. If you’re concerned about caloric intake, limit the amount used, not the full flavors. Additionally, these dressings may not be able to sit in a bottle, inside the door of your refrigerator for endless months…but who really needs that stuff either.) Calories were not a worry for Jim (good thing, considering his largely junk-food dietary habits), his Aunt Ortense said he was such an active boy, he “burned calories as fast as he consumed them.”
This first recipe has become my favorite salad dressing in the Recipes for Rebels cookbook. It comes from Jim Backus (actually it comes from his wife Henny, Jim wasn’t allowed in the kitchen after his first attempt to boil an egg). Backus played the role of Frank Stark, the apron-wearing, brow-beaten father to Dean’s character in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Backus’ other significant roles included the voice of the animated character, Mr. Magoo (1949-), as Thurston Howell III on TV’s Gilligan’s Island (1964-67), in I
Married Joan (1952-55), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and Blondie (1969-69). Dean and Backus had met previous to the filming at a party. Backus recalled, “I liked him. That wasn’t the popular attitude. You weren’t supposed to like him.” The first day on the set, Dean implored him, “Teach me one thing, how to do Magoo.” Three days later, according to Backus, “He did it better than I did!”
JIM BACKUS’ AVOCADO SALAD DRESSING
-Mash the avocado and transfer all ingredients to a blender. Blend until thick and smooth. Serve immediately over green salad.
This dressing only lasts a couple of days in the ‘fridge (probably less because it is soooo delicious!), but also works nicely as a veggie dip or sandwich spread. It’s beautiful and creamy, letting every flavor shine through. I suggest using olive oil instead of the corn and make sure to lay a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of leftover dressing to prevent too much discoloration.
Next up comes Ann Doran, who played Jim’s mother in the same film. Unlike her Rebel… character, Ann was known to be warm, gracious, kind, and generous. Ann was one of the busiest women in Hollywood, with over 500 film and 1000 TV credits to her resume. Dean considered her a friend and confidant. Ann recalled that on several occasions after filming had completed, she was awoken in the middle of the night by a voice on the front lawn calling, “Mom! Mom!” She would call out the window, “Who is it? You’ll wake the neighbors!” The reply came back, “It’s your son, Jimmy!” Jim had been drinking and Ann would hurry him into the house where they would sit on the kitchen floor drinking coffee and talking until the sun came up.
ANN DORAN’S HERB SALAD DRESSING
-Shake together in a jar and store in refrigerator. Use as needed on greens or any salad.
This is a nice, all-purpose salad dressing with great flavor. Again, replace the Wesson Oil (a corporate sponsor) with a great quality olive oil and serve with salad or chilled leftover vegetables (boiled or grilled).
You can’t talk about salads without mentioning the world famous Cobb Salad. This salad was created by Robert Cobb at the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood as a late night impromptu dinner for Jack Warner, Sid Grauman and others from leftovers he had on hand. The full recipe and preparation is in the cookbook…you can use what you have available. This mnemonic can help to remember the ingredient list:
With a bed of mixed lettuces, this was tossed table-side with the Brown Derby’s Old-Fashioned French Dressing. This dressing bears little resemblance to what we currently call French dressing, and is the appropriate accompaniment to this classic salad. James Dean ate at the Brown Derby a number of times, but was not fond of the uppity show-biz atmosphere. He mocked what the Derby had come to represent in letters to former girlfriend Barbara Glenn. None-the-less, the Cobb Salad is a summertime classic and here is the recipe for their dressing:
BROWN DERBY’S OLD-FASHIONED FRENCH DRESSING
-Blend together all ingredients, except oils. Then add olive and salad oils and mix well again. Chill. Shake before serving (This dressing keeps well in the refrigerator. Can be made and stored in a Mason jar).
Again, I prefer to use straight olive oil (for the health and flavor benefits) and forego the “salad oil.”
One of my favorite dressings as a child was Green Goddess (okay, maybe I was a strange child and this foodie thing has long reaching roots). It usually came in a bottle labeled “Wish Bone” or “Kraft.” The original Green Goddess dressing was created in the 1920’s at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, in honor of actor George Arliss (the first British actor to win an Academy Award). There is no direct connection between Arliss and Dean…the recipe just went with the vintage salad dressing theme of this blog, and I like it. The flavor of homemade Green Goddess is even nicer than the nostalgic version I held in my head all these years. It’s worth your while and adds variety to our salad options…
PALACE HOTEL’S GREEN GODDESS DRESSING
-Blend until smooth. Refrigerate up to one week.
And one last personal favorite, 1000 Island. More than just a salad dressing, I love a toasty Reuben sandwich, topped with homemade 1000 Island dressing. This recipe dates back to around 1904 and originates from the upper east coast US, from the 1000 island region of the St Lawrence River that defines the border between the US and Canada. (As a vegetarian, my Reuben replaces the corned beef with thick slices of summer-time tomatoes, topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese on Rye or Pumpernickel and broiled open-face until hot and bubbly. You can stick with the traditional corned beef if you choose.)
1000 ISLAND DRESSING
-Combine well. Store covered in refrigerator’
I substitute honey for the sugar in this recipe (and the above ones as well…).
Hope you enjoy your “salad days” of summer with an abundance of your (or your neighbor’s) garden providing a wealth of healthy, satisfying meals, fresh for the picking.