We all know that salads are supposed to be healthier than most other foods, but when you look at the calorie content, and ingredient list of commercially made dressings, it’s really scary! One serving of dressing can be the same caloric content as a small cheeseburger. …and what the heck is “titanium dioxide“?! Now, it’s true that not all calories are created equal, but there are super benefits to making your own.
The Basics – What you’ll need
Back in the day, I was a fan of balsamic vinegar on my salad. No fat, no special seasoning or ingredients, just balsamic vinegar. Now that I’ve been paying more attention to what people in the nutrition world have to say, I’ve been adding the fat back in! The right kinds of fats are actually really good for you. Fats help lubricate your joints, make your skin radiant and supple, strengthen our cell membranes against oxidation damage, and help insulate our nervous system1. Olive oil is what I use 99% of the time. Coconut oil is also good, though it solidifies at room temperature, so when you’re eating your salads, the greens should be room temperature. Sesame oil,truffle oil, walnut oil, and basically any other oil will do. Other fats that are a little less common, but equally good are ripe avocado, mayonnaise, nut butters, seeds like flax and sunflower, and the oils that are derived from them.
Apple cider vinegar is by far the best vinegar you can consume – just be sure that it is raw and un-filtered! Pasteurized apple cider vinegar does not have the abundance of minerals and potassium that the raw does. It also helps promote optimal digestion, and encourages growth of good bacteria in our bodies1. Balsamic vinegar is one of my favorites too – also rice wine, sherry, red wine, white wine, champagne… They sky is the limit! Take a good look at your local grocer’s offering next time, and buy something you’ve never had before! Farmer’s markets are also known for selling vinegars – I get my raw apple cider vinegar (and my apples too!) from Ha’s Apple Farm, at the Riverside Farmer’s Market and it’s BOMB! Buttermilk is also popular in creamier dressings like ranch and blue cheese.
The acid you use in your salad dressing is not limited to vinegars or buttermilk either! Any type of citrus will work WONDERFULLY! Lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, grapefruit… Can you see that the possibilities are endless when it comes to your dressings? We’re not even done yet!
Recently, I saw a salad dressing that used a ton of scallions. Scallions! Who would have thought? What a great way to impart a mild onion flavor to your dressing. That’s definitely next on my list of things to try. Adding roasted red peppers has been a tried and true method for me as well. Seasonings that I typically use (but definitely not limited to) are fresh and powdered garlic, bourbon smoked paprika, dried mustard, dijon mustard (this is a GREAT emulsifier), Worcestershire, soy sauce, beer (yeah, I said it!), honey, maple syrup (the real stuff), freshly cracked black pepper, cumin, coriander, jalapeno, parsley, cilantro, basil, dill… You get the idea.
You are in control – the only limit is your imagination
So, now that we’ve got the basics down, toy with some combinations of your own. I’ll start you off with a couple of examples.
I’d go for a good extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, basil, and parsley.
This one is popular too – Extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, black pepper, and maybe a couple drops of maple syrup.
I also LOVE a good sesame dressing made with toasted sesame oil (the toasty-ness REALLY comes out, and is SO delicious), rice wine vinegar, a dash of soy sauce, a dash of mirin, and some actual sesame seeds.
Roasted Red Pepper
My roasted red pepper dressing is made with equal parts extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar – add in some roasted red peppers, garlic, black pepper, and parsley, and you have a nice, hearty salad dressing to please everyone!
Ranch / Blue Cheese
Ranch and blue cheese dressings are also very popular, and start out with a combination of mayonnaise and sour cream as the fat component, then buttermilk is added as the acid. Parsley, dill, and garlic go into the ranch, and Worcestershire, lemon, garlic, and blue cheese crumbles marry to form blue cheese. Now that you’ve got some ideas, experiment with the different ingredients to make a dressing that is all your own.
Now that I have all the ingredients and knowledge, what’s the best way to mix ’em?
Some people say that a ratio of fat to acid should be 3 to 1. This may create a better-emulsified dressing, but I like really punchy dressings, so I go for a 1 to 1 ratio. A quarter cup oil to a quarter cup acid is how I roll, especially when dealing with vinegars. When dealing with a super-strong acid like lemon juice however, I would probably go with a 3 part oil to 1 part lemon juice. Experiment to your tastes though!
The best way to actually mix the dressing is to toss everything into a blender, and let ‘er rip! Start on a low setting if you can, and work your way up, until you have beautiful, creamy goodness.
Start with the acid and other seasonings in a large bowl, and get your whisking arm ready. While vigorously whisking, slowly stream in the oil.
Tupperware With a Tight Lid Method
The last, and probably quickest method requires a vessel like tupperware, or a saved dressing bottle – anything that is not insanely large, and has a tight lid. Add in your ingredients, secure the lid, and shake it like you mean it! I use this method when I’m in a hurry in the morning, running out the door on my way out to work, and have only enough time to pour one tablespoon of oil, and one tablespoon of vinegar. Lifesaving!
Benefits- You know exactly what is in it
These days, it seems that companies will put just about anything in their food product to make it more appealing to the masses. In doing so, they actually make it less appealing to us, with ingredients we can’t pronounce, and even ingredients that may be FDA approved, but are actually really BAD for us (aspartame, anyone?). Making your own dressings results in not only a healthier option, but it’s fresher too!
Chances are you already have some type of oil and some type of vinegar in your pantry. Even if you didn’t, and had to buy these, you would still get more servings of dressing than you would with pre-made, bottled dressings. More servings by buying the oil and vinegar, results in less waste of the plastic and glass bottles of the pre-made stuff! Sure, there will always be waste either way, but there will undoubtedly be less by buying your oil and vinegar separately. You will also be able to use these separate ingredients in other dishes you prepare at home, making them a more versatile option.
It happens to all of us, and it’s super annoying. What to do with the mustard and mayonnaise bottles/jars when you simply can’t get the remaining smears of goodness out of them? You try a spoon, you try a butter knife or spatula, but there’s still a little bit left! I have a solution! Using the Tupperware With a Tight Lid Method, add your dressing ingredients to the nearly empty bottle, then shake, shake, shake it to your hearts content. Not only do you get the seemingly un-touchable mustard and mayo bits out, you can make a kick ass dressing too! I used to dread the near-empty bottles of mayo and mustard. Now, they are little dressing-making gems, and you really get your money’s worth out of the jar. It’s a win-win!
I now leave you with one of my favorite recipes that is in regular rotation at my house. I hope you like it! What is your favorite dressing? If you’ve made it on your own, I’d love to hear about it!
- 1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
- 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Clove Garlic
- 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Mustard
- 1/2 Teaspoon Worcestershire
- 1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
- Place everything in a blender. First, blend on lowest setting until garlic is pulverized, about 5 seconds, then switch to medium-high to emulsify for 5 more seconds.
1The Beauty Detox Solution Kimberly Snyder, C.N.