january 11, 2013
Folks are deeply into New Year’s resolution mode : salad green mixes are flying off the shelves and merchants cannot keep up with the demand. So. You have resolved to eat more salads and fewer French fries. And what are you putting on your colorful, crunchy salads? How about propylene glycol alginate, high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate? Not quite what you had in mind when you signed up for better health in 2013, huh? I thought so. These keep your commercial salad dressings shelf-worthy, but who knows what they do to our bodies, our temples. I would love to convince you that making your own salad dressing is easy, cost effective and a healthier choice overall.
Vinaigrettes may be made in a jar if you don’t want to dirty up a whisk and bowl. Some of my favorite easy dressings are made with those last little bits of mustard, or jam/jelly/preserves, transforming them into elegant keepers with the addition of oil and vinegar. As you become more adept, you will stop measuring religiously and simply eyeball ingredients. Trust me – it all turns out fine, and you can adjust the final product with pinches of this or that. The basic formula for vinaigrettes is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Add emulsifiers like Dijon mustard to thicken, pinches of fine sea salt and pepper and flavorings like garlic, fresh herbs or honey and you have homemade dressing, sans chemicals. An exception to the 3:1 rule is balsamic vinegar; this potent, heady elixir should be used more sparingly. Extra virgin olive oil tastes great but solidifies in the fridge and can overwhelm delicate flavors like citrus. I like a clean, neutral oil like canola or grape seed, and will often combine EVOO with the neutral oil for flavor and malleability.
Creamy salad dressings may be whisked by hand, whipped up in the bowl of a mini chopper or food processor, or made in the beaker attachment of an immersion blender (see previous post).
Stick blenders are one of my favorite kitchen toys, along with the microplane grater, which makes quick work of garlic cloves.
I continue my January citrus love affair with today’s clementine vinaigrette and creamy lemon caper caesar dressing. These and other seasonal salad dressings make appearances on the monthly menus of The Good Eats Company personal chef service. Vinaigrettes keep well in the fridge at least two months and creamy dressings stay fresh about three weeks as long as you use a clean spoon for portion removal. The lemon caper dressing makes a perfect dipping sauce for crisp vegetables and is marvelous drizzled over grilled fish or chicken. The clementine vinaigrette requires no vinegar – the reduced citrus juice provides the acidic tang. If you substitute a more astringent citrus like blood orange or pink grapefruit, you may want to add a bit of liquid sweetener like honey or agave syrup to moderate the sour.
Generally speaking, vinaigrettes cling nicely to delicate greens like arugula and baby spinach and creamy dressings do justice to sturdy greens like romaine, chard or kale. If you are an ardent fan of creamy dressing who likes a nice spring mix, try diluting with a little more vinegar. Health police beware : I am a proponent of full fat ingredients like mayonnaise and sour cream. You are welcome to use lower fat or nonfat versions of these in your dressings, but consider that manufacturers often add more sugar or salt to make up for the loss of tasty fat, or use chemical products that give a good “mouth feel”. I would rather have smaller amounts of the real thing than more generous servings of chemically enhanced lowfat anything, but don’t mind me if you are strict in your calorie counting. The whole idea is to enjoy your salads, and keep up with your resolution to embrace healthier eating habits this year and beyond.
lemon caper caesar dressing
recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company
makes 1 1/2 cups
1 cup mayonnaise (Spectrum makes a nice additive free canola version)
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup grated parmesan
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 T capers, drained and rinsed
3/4 T worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins is gluten free)
2 t anchovy paste
1 t Dijon mustard
one large garlic clove, grated
Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl (finely chop capers in this case), or in the bowl of a food processor, and mix thoroughly. Alternately, use immersion blender. Refrigerate at least one hour to allow flavor to bloom before serving. Lasts in fridge up to 3 weeks.
recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company
makes 3/4 cup
1 cup strained fresh clementine juice, from about 6 large fruits
1/2 cup neutral oil like canola
small garlic clove, grated
pinches of fine sea salt ( I like Baleine) and white pepper
- In heavy small saucepan, bring clementine juice to a gentle boil and simmer over medium heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, watching carefully to avoid scorching.
- Immediately transfer to shallow mixing bowl, and add pinches of salt , pepper and garlic.
- Add oil slowly by whisking in a steady, thin stream. It helps to place a moist dish towel under the mixing bowl if you lack another kitchen helper to hold the bowl in place.
- Chill at least 30 minutes to develop flavor. Keeps in fridge up to 2 months.