Laughing Through the (Onion) Tears

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

(by Sammi Haber Brondo)

My mom’s cooking was typically saved for special occasions. It’s not that she couldn’t cook or didn’t enjoy it, but my brother and I were picky eaters; his favorite meal was sugary cereal, while I loved chicken fingers and French fries.

Mostly I stayed out of the kitchen at our home in suburban Detroit, but the one holiday meal that mom and I worked on together was Thanksgiving. Every year, we made the same recipe for our dinner with 53+ cousins. Making the Garbage Bag Salad became our tradition.

The salad gets its name from an actual garbage bag, and herein lies its beauty: All the ingredients are chopped and thrown into a (clean and non-fragrant) garbage bag. You can really shake the components so that the salad is well mixed, and then transport it quite efficiently to feed a large crowd. As a bonus, minimal cleanup is required, and after dinner, the garbage bag can double as… a garbage bag.

For my mom and me, part of the fun involved slicing red onions. I know how odd that sounds. We are both super-sensitive to the vapors produced when an onion is cut and releases the chemical compounds that make people tear up. The fun was in trying different techniques to prevent the crying. We’ve tried chewing on toothpicks, wearing gloves, and, once I moved to New York City, my mom even bought me onion-cutting goggles. Really, nothing has worked, but our efforts (including looking ridiculous) always made us laugh through the tears.

Mom and I are alike in many ways (I’ve been told that I have a lot of her mannerisms), but I'm more of a perfectionist. She definitely calms me down and helps me see that everything doesn’t need to be just so. I have a distinct memory of trying to cut fruit into uniform squares after learning knife skills, but Mom gently reminded me that the fruit tastes the same even if it's not picture-perfect.

The Garbage Bag Salad had a lovely mix of sweetness, crispness, and a bit of tang from the red onion. Now, as a dietitian, it makes sense that my memory of “cooking” with my mom involved a salad. I’ve come a long since those chicken fingers and French fries.


Sammi Haber Brondo, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a private practice in New York City. She is the author of The Essential Vegetable Cookbook. She can be found @veggiesandchocolate.

Garbage Bag Salad

2 large red onions

4 c. spring salad mix

1/2 c. dried cranberries

1/2 c. mandarin oranges

1/2 c. slivered almonds or walnuts

1/2 c. bottled poppy seed dressing

Thinly slice onions.

Add sliced onions and remaining ingredients, except the dressing, to a large, non-fragrant garbage bag, and shake to toss.

When ready to serve, add dressing to the bag and toss.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.