Given all the food I cook, it should be annoying that something so ridiculously simple as my garlic salad would be the dish people currently request the most. Annoying, that is, if I didn’t love it myself and could eat it every night.
And often do.
I say its “my” garlic salad because I landed on this recipe after many, many attempts and variations. But to be honest, it’s my attempt at recreating a favorite dish from growing up, Mama Colichia’s House Salad. Colichia’s Italian Village was opened by Mama Colichia in 1935 in Port Arthur, Texas. I’m not sure the original location but when our family was going, which was often (same for much of my hometown), the restaurant was in the Colichia’s house on Proctor Street. The tables were set up in the living room and dining room and Mama Colichia worked out of her kitchen.
The food was pure old fashioned Sicily and absolutely wonderful. I always ordered either the Veal Parmigiana (mostly) and the lasagna (on special occasions). The Spaghetti and Meatballs were also a town favorite. But the most remarkable dish that came out of that kitchen was the house salad Mama Colichia served with every meal. She made each salad by hand right before it came out of the kitchen. She used — and pardon my Texas-French — a shitload of garlic and distilled white vinegar. Good Lord, that salad. You can live on it. We would talk about it as a family, obsessing on it. My dad, whom Mama Colichia loved, thought for years she put a dash of Dr. Pepper in the salad, because she used a Dr. Pepper bottle to hold her vinegar. (It works great!) You could see her making the salad when the swinging door dividing the kitchen from the dining room would swing back and forth when the waiters walked through the door.
While Mama Colichia passed years ago and the house on Procter is no longer an Italian Village, her children and grandchildren still run updated versions at home and I always slide in to have the salad.
Over the years, I’ve tried different variations to see if I could get close. I’ve finally ‘mastered it’, if you can call the rather ramshackle recipe below mastering. No matter. I will in no way claim this is a good as Mama Coilichia’s, but if/when I ask people what they want for dinner, I hear this the most. And so I give it to you.
Don’t be scared of the garlic. It’s good for you and you will love this.
Oh, and when I made this salad to take the pictures for the blog, I ate the whole bowl. It’s all I ate for dinner, with a martini, so don’t think I’m a pig. And I’m a rabbit, I love all salad in general. But yes I ate the whole bowl. It’s that good.
For the recipe, click here:
GARLIC SALAD (makes 4 small appetizer salads- I double this frequently)
(use this as a general guideline, I never make it quite the same each time)
4 hearts of romaine, sliced horizontally into 1 inch pieces
6 large cloves of garlic, pressed (see Note below)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (get the real thing, not out of a canister)
1/4 t salt (I use double, but use 1/4 your first time and taste to your liking)
1/2 t cracked black pepper (same here, I use more but taste as you toss)
NOTE: There is no science to back this up, but I’ve come to believe pressing garlic gives you more garlic flavor than mincing… when using garlic raw, at least. Mincing is great for many uses, cooking and raw, but if you want garlic, I think a pressed garlic clove releases more oil and gives more of a garlic kick. I’ve done side by side taste tests. So, you know, it’s kind of scientific.
Put the pressed garlic in a large bowl (if you like salad, get a large wooden salad bowl… yes, it makes a big difference) and pour in the oil. Stir it up, making sure all the garlic is covered by the oil and let it sit 15-30 minutes.
Pour in the vinegar. Whisk very well to mix.
Throw in your romaine. Toss well to coat. This is a wet salad. If you have dressing at the bottom, no worries. People will be happy (see photos at bottom).
Add the salt, pepper and pecorino. Toss again. Taste. Toss again. You may want more salt, pepper and/or cheese. It should be have a wonderful kick from the vinegar and garlic. Be careful not to face plant into the bowl at this moment. Serve.
NOTE: You can do all different sizes here. Just remember 1:1:1 oil, distilled white vinegar, pecorino romano. You can’t go wrong.
Here is a photo of the dressing remaining in the bowl after all the salad is eaten. And then a friend, who was embarrassed and asked to remain nameless, spooning the remaining dressing out of the bottom of the bowl. I’ve never had dressing left. People use bread or spoons to get the dressing out, once the salad is gone.
You will, too.
43 thoughts on “Garlic Salad, My Most Requested Dish”
Tom what a great trip down memory lane. Thanks for figuring this out! We can’t wait to try it when we get home (in Kauai this week).
Pat! Thanks and so wonderful to hear from you. Let me know what you think when you try! And enjoy Kauai!
Tom we made it last night. I could not wait to do it and we had all ingredients in our friends’ house in Kauai. Wow, it was a big hit. 6 of the big tropical size garlic cloves were a bit much, because it was quite overwhelming. I do remember that Sissy used to ask Mrs. C to ramp back on the garlic a little bit, so maybe that’s the taste I’m used to. In any event it was a wonderful trip down memory lane, and ALL of my children got seconds. (That’s a first). Chewing lots of gum on the flight home!
Pat! Glad the children asked for seconds : ) And yeah it’s tough to gauge how strong each clove is! One trick, if you don’t want so much, is to let the six cloves sit in the oil for a while then, before you add the vinegar, use a spoon to take about half the pressed garlic out. So the oil is flavored but you don’t have as much actual garlic in the dressing. Glad it was a hit!
And Pat, I remember such good times there with the four of you!
My Uncle Jerry was Mama Colichia’s son and I’ve watched him make it for 60 years. You are spot on.
I just love this. Judi Benoit
Thank you, Judi! I appreciate it… and glad it is spot on! Best to you!
That looks just like the salad my Grandma Josie Durso made. Except for the Martini (which is a great idea!!) that could be her salad bowl and everything. And luckily for me, I recently inherited my Grandma Josie’s salad bowl!
Whoa, you are so lucky to get that salad bowl! I wish I had my grandmother, Honey’s, salad bowl. She never even used water on it, much less soap. Every night she wiped it out over and over with paper towels to clean it, then she would rub it with a halved garlic clove. She made incredible salad. They really do make a difference, the wooden bowls.
We know from this ummmazing salad, being lucky to have eaten it in your home. The huge burst of flavor and satisfaction from the eating, belies that this is actually a light salad. Perfect before even the heaviest of meals. Thank you for gifting your readers with this. It will be made tonight! I mean that!!!
Jeff! Thanks for the comment and you’re right, it is light! Let me know how yours turns out!! See you next week! : )
I can’t wait to try this! It is my mother’s all time favorite salad! Thanks so much for sharing!
Kelli! I hope it comes even a little close to Mama Colichias! Let me know when you try – and thanks for reading. Great to hear from you.
I haven’t thought about Mama Colichia in a very long time. Yum.
Nice blog btw 😊
Valerie ! So great to hear from you. And thanks! I hope you are doing well!
Tom, what blast from the past! Loved Mama Coilichia and I’m so excited to have this recipe!
Lisa! Yeah, I wish we could go back for one more meal : ) Let me know if you try! Wonderful to hear from you.
Wonderful story and thanks for sharing the recipe. It sounds delicious.
Hey! Thanks, Uncle Craig!
I can’t thank you enough for sharing this recipe! I am a Port Arthur native, and I recall ordering 2 LARGE bowls of Mama Colicha’s House Salad every time my family had the pleasure of visiting her restaurant. I, too, attempted to imitate the dressing on several occasions, and I came very close, but in the end, no cigar. I shared this recipe on my FB page, and have received many ‘thank you’s for sharing’ in response. Tonight will be my first go at this, and I am amped at the chance – can’t wait to sit down and “taste the wares,” as is said. Thanks again!
James! Great to hear from you. I had 2 salads myself at times! Please let me know how you like it. Nothing can replicate exactly that genius salad but I hope it comes close. Would love to hear your honest opinion. And thanks for reading!
I ate there in the 70’s
Don’t remember the salad
But food was great
Will try the salad soon
Thanks, John! If you try it, let us know!
Mama believed in minced garlic, especially in the garlic spaghetti. when you finished the spaghetti, you had this wonderful slurry of minced garlic, butterm and olive oil in the bottom of the bowl to sop up with the bread. Thanks for the recipe. and the house on Procter, right across from Howdy Doody and St. Joseph’s church is still there.
Oh man, I love garlic spaghetti. How did she make it?
Did you ever get the recipe for garlic spaghetti? I would love it as well! There was a little place on Snelling Ave in St. Paul MN called Grandpa Tony’s, that had a simple dish of spaghetti (or some noodle), garlic, olive oil and parmesan. Delicious!
Sarah! I don’t have hers but I have my own! Just a ton of garlic, really good olive oil, salt, pepper and pecorino for me. Wow I love that!
Thanks for recreating this salad, never will forget that taste, always ordered the dinner salad because it was larger than the salad that came with your meal. Never had Veal Parmesan that came close to Mamas, was like a taste of heaven. Feel blessed to have experienced that food so many times.
Thank you, Paul! Great to hear from you and thanks for reading. Glad it brought back good memories. Man I loved that place!
Tried your recipe. You got it right! I have wanted this recipe for years. Thanks for figuring it out.
Roxanne! So glad you enjoyed it! I make it a lot : ) Thanks so much for reading!
I can’t wait to try your recipe, Tom! Our family has told many a story about Mama Colichia’s salads (and the lasagna … when the waiter would take it out of the pan it cooked in I swear it doubled in size on the plate!) and the next day’s gum use!
LOL about the gum… indeed. And I know what you mean about the lasagna! Wow.
Pardon my piggishness of a second comment within your post. I could say that I will try not to make a habit of this, but if you continue to post addictive recipes, this may happen again. Garlic salad has now been made multiple times in our home. The first time I read your post I just went for the recipe, as I was that excited to try it. But now that I can luxuriate in reading the history of this salad, as well as your commentary on dressing that may be left in the bowl, I have to share that before reading about that, we have absolutely slurped up any of this elixir, remaining in our respective salad bowls. No bread for dunking….no spoons….just tipping back the bowl and smiling!
Jeff! You may post as many times as you like… and I agree, tipping the bowl is best! : ) Thank you!
YES! Coilichia’s AND El Charro! The best! Thank you for this recipe!
Sandy! Yes indeed! I wish I had some El Charro recipes! Goodness, I loved that place as well!