How to Turn a Childhood Favorite Snack Into a Grown-Up Salad
Ants on a log—thecombination of celery, raisins, and peanut butter you might remember from your lunchbox—makes a great salad.
Nostalgia is a big part of the eating experience. Whether it is indulging in foods that remind us of a particular time or place in our lives, traditional dishes that connect us to our heritage or cultural traditions, or certain flavors that just take us to an emotional place. The sense memory inherent in eating can make foods somehow amazing. It can also make foods off-limits: a bad experience with anything can render even the best version of that intolerable. I have a friend who cannot eat anything resembling a funnel cake, some who cannot even smell tequila or gin, and one for whom the very idea of nachos will turn her a shade of pale green.
Many of us love to indulge in better quality, more adult versions of our childhood favorites. Whether it is upgrading your mac and cheese with things like truffles or lobster, transforming your grilled cheese with artisanal breads and French imported fromages, or taking your pepperoni pizza next level with homemade sourdough crust, buffalo mozzarella and sopressata drizzled with spicy honey. In my house, my childhood commitment to ranch dressing has resulted in a homemade version with buttermilk and fresh herbs that one of my friends loves so much she practically considers it a beverage. I still make the dough for my chocolate chip cookies based on the Nestle tollhouse bag recipe, but I use wide disks of imported bittersweet chocolate instead of morsels, and Plugra European style butter for extra richness.
If you have children, starting to do swap outs with flavors you know they like can be a great way to bring their palates along. If they like chicken nuggets, you can call a chicken schnitzel or baked breaded chicken breasts HULK NUGGETS and get them to embrace a less processed but still accessible flavor profile.
For some youthful favorites, you need to do a complete rethink. Which is how I came up with this very grown up salad, that hits a very childhood place in my heart.
Watch: How to Make Kung Pao Chicken Salad
I always loved ants on a log. Creamy peanut butter (always Skippy at my house) spread generously into lengths of crisp celery and dotted with raisins was a fairly perfect food. Crunchy, sweet, salty, smooshy, peanutty perfection. And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with this to this day, it is my go-to snack if I get home late after an event and need something with protein quickly but it is too late for a full meal. But there is something about the flavor combination that I also thought would work well as a salad. Which it does.
This simple combination of bias-cut celery, roasted peanuts and dried cherries in a light honey lemon vinaigrette is a perfect Fall salad. You don’t need any tender greens or farmer’s market vegetables. The peanuts and cherries (or raisins, if you prefer) are easy to keep stashed in your pantry, and the dressing comes together in moments. It is crunchy and satisfying, doesn’t wilt or get soggy, so it is great on a buffet or at a dinner party. And one bite will take you back to the ants on a log of your after-school snacks in a really lovely grown-up way. It might even get your kids to eat a salad.
Slice the stalks of a head of cleaned and dried celery on the bias into ¼ inch thick slices. Put in a bowl with about three-quarters of a cup of lightly salted roasted peanuts and a half a cup of dried cherries. For the dressing, make a light vinaigrette with the juice of half a lemon and a quarter cup of olive oil mixed with a squirt of honey, a pinch of red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. I toss the salad with half the dressing then taste. Add more dressing as needed to your taste. If you want to serve on a buffet, you can have the salad undressed and serve the dressing in a pitcher on the side, that way leftovers can be stored without getting soggy.