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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Mandarin Salad Incident

You didn't know there could be a story behind a leafy green salad containing nuts and fruit, did you? On my side of the family there are plenty of nuts and fruity folk, so there is also - most definitely - a story.

My sister invited us to dinner years ago and wowed my husband and son with an uncommonly delicious salad.  It was a simple fresh lettuce salad, but it had these divine, crunchy, sweet toasted almonds scattered throughout, plump mandarin oranges, and a subtle dressing that when combined with the nuts and fruit made our taste buds sing. My family raved about my sister's salad for months afterwards. (This salad was as memorable and more edible than my sister's signature Thanksgiving Day WaldorK Salad... that's right... I said WaldorK -  but that's a story for another time.)

 I pestered and needled my sister to provide me with the recipe to the fabulous Mandarin Salad that was so unforgettably tasty. She repeatedly offered to write it down... later. She promised to deliver, but never followed through. After constant nagging and whining from me, she finally caved in and shared the ingredients in detail over the phone. I made sure to run through it twice - double checking for any mistakes. She assured me I had copied it exactly.

My son's birthday was around the corner and he requested the Mandarin Salad as one of his five courses. I make it a point to follow our mother's tradition of creating whatever culinary feast my children want for their birthdays. It is a very special occasion and we make a big deal out of the meal. (The year that Carolyne asked for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, frozen french fries, and store-bought cupcakes with black plastic spiders atop was not MY idea and nothing I could say would convince her otherwise. Oh well, it was certainly very easy for me!)

I happily whipped up the amazing Mandarin Salad for my sweet son's 10th birthday. When we sat down to eat my son looked at me after taking one bite and said in a tiny, disappointed voice, "Yours isn't as good as Aunt Anna's, Mom. I don't know what you did wrong, but this is NOT the same."
Everyone agreed; it was not as good.

I went back to the recipe and checked every ingredient - every measurement.
Yes, I'm sure I had followed it to a T.
So, I called my sister and complained.

"Mine wasn't as good," I confessed.

"Well, I don't know why not," she replied wryly.

"You did something different," I accused.

"Well, I did not!" she replied in a fake defensive tone.

"Well then... I don't know what I did wrong. Tim really wanted this for his birthday and I made it exactly the way you told me and it sucked."

There was momentary silence on the other end.

"Oh, I didn't know you were making it for Tim's birthday," my sister said sheepishly.

"Yes, I made it for him because he specifically asked for it. In fact, he has begged me to make your stupid salad for months. I thought it would be a treat if I made it for his birthday. I don't know what I could have done wrong," I said irritably.

"Oh, Meri... now I feel horrible!"

Large intake of air. "You left out a step... I knew it!" I squealed.

"Not just a step," my sister admitted, "an ingredient, too."

 It was small and may seem insignificant... but that one excluded ingredient made all the difference in the world in how that salad tasted.

Now why, might you ask, would anyone leave out an ingredient or a step in a recipe? Well, let me tell you... it's so that she can be the only one that makes the salad the best of all! Now, I can understand not sharing a recipe in total with someone you don't like... in fact, that seems plumb reasonable to me. Call it a Southern thing. But to cheat your very own sister and ruin your nephew's birthday dinner? I think the Devil might have a very special hot seat for those kinds of people.

Luckily for me, this same sister is the only one in the family that suffers from EGC - or Extremely Guilty Conscience. So for years following, I tortured her with the memory of the Mandarin Salad Incident and the disappointment that my child suffered at his very own special birthday meal. And it payed off - the desired effect was delightful to me... although, she did finally tell me to "Stuff it!" since I apparently HAD the recipe all along in my West of the Rockies Cookbook and never knew it. Boy, did I feel dumb.

This Mandarin Salad recipe is fairly easy and takes only a few ingredients... ALL of which I will share with you... ALL of which I have found in the larger Mexican grocery stores. It's worth the effort. It is a nice change from the typical garden salad. And now I always get compliments! .

In case you're wondering, I am very close with my sisters and this kind of teasing and prodding is a characteristic of our relationship. When we are together, we laugh like hyenas over our antics and other family members shake their heads hoping that we were, in fact, left on our parent's doorstep as infants and it's not a genetic disorder.



  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 1/4 cup veggie oil
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Dash of hot pepper sauce


  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar... (this is the ingredient my sister omitted in case you're wondering. Don't omit! Don't!)
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce
  • 1/2 head Romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 (11 oz.) can mandarin oranges, drained
Almond preparation: In a small pan, cook almonds and sugar (don't omit!) over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. The nuts easily burn, so watch carefully... stirring often. When sugar is syrupy, pour coated almonds onto a heat safe plate or wax paper to cool.

Mix lettuces, celery and onion in a salad bowl.

Just before serving, add the almonds and oranges. Toss gently with dressing.

To save time, you can mix the dressing well in advance and chill AND you can prepare the almonds and keep in plastic baggie or sealed container until ready to use.


  1. I love this story, and your writing is superb! I laughed, as my four sisters and I have such a good time when together, though it isn't often enough for me. They're on the E. coast (Va. and NC), and Carol was in Mi., but she passed away last summer. Sad. I'll have to tell you the story about Thanksgiving and the whipping cream sometime.

  2. Boy, it's amazing how a story can morph into something quite different than the actual event. I most certainly did NOT omit any ingredients when divulging the splendid mandarin orange salad recipe. However, I did neglect to include a crucial step to the success of this salad. (Quite frankly, I didn't really think I needed to mention it!) Here is the step:

    "Open the can of mandarin oranges BEFORE tossing them into the salad."

    Poor Tim! I can only imagine his confusion when he saw a big can sitting in the middle of his birthday salad.

    FYI: This is the true story!!!
    Anna - the sister