My father didn’t grow up cooking. And this salad dressing is his one and only culinary legacy. His one and only recipe. It has been in our family for almost three decades. And since his death almost eight years ago, it’s become a reminder not only of the level of his culinary skills, but also of his sense of humor.
For my father was adorable and funny when it came to food. He knew very little about cooking, but he got all excited anyway whenever we were at our house in Maryland and the kitchen there felt like it belonged to us more than in Thailand, where our maids reigned. As you can see in the photo, he’s wearing an apron and a toque just to make his salad dressing. I remember him helping us make khai jiao (Thai-style omelette or literally deep-fried egg) one afternoon. And he didn’t even know that the pan had to be filled with oil and very hot for it to work. We ate a very sad, limp khai jiao for lunch that day.
My father loved to eat. As he got older, he exercised less self-control when he was hungry and when it came to other people’s food. If he liked one of our dishes, he would always say, “You don’t like that, right?” or “You’re not going to finish that, right?” and volunteer to finish it for us. Those moments endeared him to us and produced lots of warm laughter. And as his taste buds declined with age, he began pouring crazy amounts of salt into his food. He always sulked when we scolded him for it, then immediately tried to sneak in a few more shakes when we weren’t looking.
He didn’t mind going on a pescetarian diet for several years, though, after discovering that his PSA level was high. And for a while, he believed it was the diet that helped lower his PSA level, until it climbed back up again and kept going.
But when I look back, there was no one who influenced the way I ate as much as he did.
One of my earliest memories of eating were the ones at the dinner table. He was the one who told me not to play while eating, not to talk while chewing, not to chew with my mouth open, and not to make any sound while chewing.
He taught me that dinner time at home was important and sacred and was not to be interrupted by phone calls. He liked to listen to the evening news on TV while we ate. But it was something that stimulated our conversations, not robbed us of them.
My father lived through WWII, and frugality never left him. One of our family’s jokes was that he was a vacuum cleaner, clearing uneaten foods out of sight and into his own stomach. He taught me to eat everything on my plate, which I hated as a child. His favorite lines were, “One more bite, one more bite. This one is going to make you grow,” and “Eat all the rice, or your grandfather won’t love you.” My grandfather was once a rice farmer and had died decades before I was born.
But the most important thing of all, he introduced me to Danish blue cheese, Stilton cheese, and green olives with pimentos, which for years I thought was how olives came out of their trees. He introduced me to Marmite. It appeared at breakfast one fine morning when I was a teenager. He taught me that it’s best spread on raisin bread. He introduced me to anchovy and taught me that it’s good with many things.
My father groomed my taste buds to appreciate pungency and strong contrasts. I feel most like my father’s daughter when I eat strong-smelling and strong-tasting foods or when I pair garlic and chive cream cheese with a cinnamon raisin bagel.
This is the first time on this blog that I’m sharing a recipe with the readers. I am quite nervous as I think our family eats pretty weird stuff sometimes. The salad dressing has been tested successfully outside our family only once when we were guests at a barbecue dinner in London in 2003. My father was sitting there with a proud smile on his face, quietly observing other guests savoring his dressing. We teased him for days afterward.
He initially created it to be eaten with raw endive. It later went on every green salad we ever had at home. I called my mom to get the recipe, and she remembered it quite well, even though the task of making it had fallen to her maid many years ago.
This salad dressing encapsulates so accurately the way he ate: Put everything you love together in generous amounts. It’ll all work out somehow.
Prok Amranand’s Salad Dressing
1 cup Italian dressing (I use Praise.)
7 anchovy fillets
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Capers (for topping)
Green olives (for topping)
Put all the ingredients, except capers and olives, in the blender. Blend until smooth. Add capers and green olives.
In our home, the salad dressing comes out a bit different each time. This is the first time the recipe has been written down. And it’s a milder version of the dressing. So feel free to adjust the amount of mustard or anchovy to your liking. My father even later substituted anchovy fillet with anchovy paste. He was delighted when he discovered that they also came in tubes.