Sunday, May 6, 2012

Barton's Table of Contents Taco Salad


Just in time for Cinco de Mayo comes this delightful creation. And no mystery about its origins: Barton’s Table of Contents was one of those quintessentially ‘80s eateries, complete with a semi-underground entrance and ferns hanging in the rounded windows. It was the place for soup, sandwiches and salads for the workday crowd, and especially loved by me because occasionally my mom would treat me to a weekday lunch there. Oh, the glamour of lunch out, mid-week! I was sure this had to be one of the very best things about being a grown-up, with no pesky school to interfere with dining adventures.



Everett, WA may not have had a huge Hispanic population when I was growing up, but far be it from my hometown to let a trend like taco salad pass it by. I’m not sure when the deep-fried taco shell bowl came into vogue, but you’ll notice it missing here. What’s not missing is a plethora of ‘80s health food: sunflower seeds, alfalfa sprouts. Sprouts!? When was the last time you had sprouts on your taco salad? (In addition to homemade yogurt, Mom used to grow her own sprouts in a canning jar with a mesh lid.)

This recipe comes courtesy of the “Forum” food column of the Everett Herald, date unknown. The restaurant opened in 1977, so it’s safe to assume this ran a few years later, after it had built up a clientele clamoring for their original recipes. My ‘80s cookbook is full of recipes like this, straddling the still-crunchy-granola vibe of the ‘70s and a headlong rush into the “We Are the World” gastronomy of the ‘80s. As far as I can remember, I never ordered the taco salad at Barton’s. In fact, I didn’t develop a taste for Mexican food until my teens.

But I love it now, and this salad doesn’t disappoint. For one, it’s a looker and features everything, really, but the kitchen sink. The three-part prep is a hassle – salad, seasoned meat and dressing – but I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.

Though there is much said about the huge portions offered up in restaurants today, Barton’s seemed to be ahead of its time. The portion sizes on this salad are enormous. True, the restaurant, not wanting to look chintzy, may have inflated the quantities to appease the diner’s bottom line. (Or maybe restaurant portions have always been huge?) But the last time I ate this much ground beef in one sitting was after I gave birth to my daughter and promptly inhaled a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in 30 seconds flat. And don’t be fooled – this salad weighs in with some impressive calories of its own with all the beef, cheese and guacamole.

Speaking of, the Guacamole Dressing is a bit euphemistic, and a bit too heavy for my dressing tastes. My husband solved that dilemma with the addition of some buttermilk ranch dressing – and we all paused to dunk our tortilla chips in it to make homemade Cool Ranch Doritos. (With an eye to your own bottom, er, line, you could also thin the dressing with salsa instead of ranch.)

If anything, this salad is a little on the bland side. I’m so used to throwing cilantro into guacamole that I really missed its vibrancy.  And though I love mushrooms, I’m not sure I love them raw. (Apologies to my good friend Megan.) But sunflower seeds – where have you been all my life? I vow to top every salad I eat from here on (taco or no) with these nuggets of deliciousness.



Barton’s Table of Contents still graces downtown Everett, though I haven’t been back to see if they’re still offering their taco salad. Stayed tuned for an update. For now, though, their tasty legacy can live on in your own kitchen – olé!

Barton’s Table of Contents Taco Salad

Equal amounts romaine and iceberg lettuce
Green onions, chopped
Cucumber, chopped
Tomatoes, chopped
Raw mushrooms, sliced or chopped
Radishes, chopped
Alfalfa sprouts
Sunflower seeds
1-1/2 pounds hamburger
Packaged taco seasoning or onion salt
1 cups bottled hot sauce
1-1/2 cups shredded cheese
1 cup crushed taco chips
Guacamole Dressing

In a large bowl prepare a tossed salad to serve 4, using the lettuce, green onions, cucumber, tomatoes, mushrooms, radishes, sprouts and sunflower seeds. Chill while preparing remainder of recipe. Brown hamburger; drain fat and season with taco seasoning or onion salt. Prepare Guacamole dressing. To serve, divide salad among 4 individual plates. Top with hamburger, bottled hot sauce, cheese and taco chips. Top with Guacamole dressing and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Barton’s Table of Contents Guacamole Dressing
2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded and mashed
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped tomatoes
¼ cup bottled hot sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine avocado, mayonnaise, lemon juice and hot sauce; blend until smooth. Stir in tomatoes and onion; season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes enough dressing to serve 4.


Notes
·      I halved the recipe and still comfortably served two adults and two children, with leftovers.
·      I substituted lime for lemon juice in the guac.

Why Don’t You …
·      Spice up the dressing to your taste with cilantro, chilies or extra hot sauce. Or, try my husband’s trick and cut it with ranch dressing. Or salsa!
·      Substitute black or pinto beans for the meat – or simply add them in addition to the burger.

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