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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why Bother? 2012 - Salad Dressing

I planned the posting date for this Why Bother? challenge very carefully.  With the unofficial start of summer a mere six weeks away, I think this is a good time to start eating lots and lots of healthy salads.  I know that there is a group of people out there who just detest eating salads.  Sitting down to a plate of lettuce just doesn't seem right to them.

And who could blame anyone for thinking that way?  Salads can be boring, unsatisfying and just plain forgettable.  There is another train of thought, the one that I have adopted toward the salad.  Salads can be bright, filling and the main course of any meal, with the right ingredients.  And of course, with the right dressing.

I have had more awful store-bought salad dressings than I care to mention.  The flavors tend to be muted, the salt to everything else in the dressing ratio is way off and the ingredient combinations sometimes wacky.  Sure, there are some pretty delicious dressings out there.  I'm not suggesting you steer clear of the salad dressing aisle completely.  There are just so many reasons to make your own dressings.

1. You know what all of the ingredients are.  As a chemist, I look at the back of a bottle of salad dressing and wonder why they need all of those chemicals.  The main reason?  To make the stuff shelf stable.  Look in your fridge, those bottles have expiration dates.  Granted, they are usually pretty far out from the purchase date.  Please go and throw away all of your old bottles of dressing, you'll have so much more space for the new dressing that you're going to prepare.

2. You can control the salt.  For the same reason that there are so many chemicals in your store-bought salad dressing, there tends to be a lot of salt.  Americans consume far more salt than is necessary for daily life and it affects our health in a negative way.  By making your own dressing, you can add just a pinch of salt (and that's only if it needs it!).

3. Think Fresh.  Those salad dressings sitting on the shelf at your local grocery store can't call any of their ingredients "fresh".  Nothing is better than putting together your own dressing and finishing it off with some freshly chopped herbs (straight from your garden if you're lucky!).  With the flavor that those herbs bring, you'll be leaving the salt shaker on the table.

4. You control the fat.  Along the lines of eating healthy in preparation for bathing suit season, everyone is watching their fat intake.  Store-bought dressings contain primarily soybean oil or canola oil.  There are some true winners out there containing extra virgin olive oil as their main fat source, but you have to be sure to read the labels.  Why settle for flavor-less canola oil when there are so many other delicious options!  From avocado to walnut, there are more options for oils than ever before.

So head out to the grocery store and skip the condiment aisle.  Go to the vinegars and oils section and pick up a few options.  I like to have white wine, rice wine and balsamic vinegar in my pantry at all times.  Specialty vinegars make an occasional appearance and are fun when changing things up, try champagne or pomegranate.

Stock up with a large bottle of extra virgin olive oil, try to catch it when it's on sale!  You'll find other amazing oils, such as walnut, sesame and avocado, often hiding in the natural foods section.  Specialty oils are a little more expensive, but give your homemade dressings amazing flavor.

One Year Ago: Mango Shrimp Curry (you should make this, it was amazing!)

You don't need me to tell you how to build a salad.  Bed of greens, top with your favorite vegetables  and don't forget the protein!  Here are two of my new favorite salad dressings, one light and one creamy, bot delicious.

Parmesan and Garlic Dressing
A Wilde Original

This dressing was made at the request of boyfriend.  A lover of all things Parmesan, he wanted a creamy dressing.  I've found that men tend to gravitate to creamy dressings and cringe at vinaigrettes.  Make this for the men in your life.  Then give them a mint.

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Or simply shake everything up in a jar.   Give it a taste then adjust salt and pepper.

Cranberry Dressing
Adapted from The Vegetarian Times Cookbook

The main flavor ingredient in this dressing comes from dried cranberries.  You can make it with fresh/frozen cranberries if you can find them.  This sweet/tart dressing was perfect over a simple salad.

1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup apple cider
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place dried cranberries in a heat-safe mug and pour boiling water over the berries.  Allow berries to sit for 15 minutes.  Drain water and allow berries to drip dry for 5 minutes.

Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until the berries are broken down. 
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