What’s in salad dressing?
Anything the manufacturer wants… whether it’s something you’d want in your dressing or not. There are, to be sure, good commercial dressings out there, but they’re not cheap, and although they may be delicious and have higher quality ingredients than lesser brands, they’re not necessarily what you want to ingest as regularly as you’d like to eat salad.
Solution: make your own! Here is a basic recipe for creamy dressing, and another for vinaigrette:
* Creamy Dressing *
Ingredients (all optional except for the yoghurt):
* Plain, unsweetened yoghurt (full fat or low fat)
* Sweet yellow onion
* Minced garlic
* Lemon pepper
* Dill seed
* Ground bay/laurel
* Powdered ginger or fresh grated ginger
* Seasoned salt
* White prepared horseradish or horseradish sauce
* Brown sugar
* Tomato paste
* Honey mustard or your favorite spicy mustard (we like Dijon)
* Pickle relish
You’ll notice that no measurements have been specified. That’s because everything you add to the yoghurt is “to taste.” In addition, if you have herbs or spices you prefer to the ones we’ve named, feel free to add or substitute them. However, there are some guiding principles here:
1. Chop the (rinsed, peeled) onion very finely. If you want to sautée it to enhance its sweetness, be sure it is room temperature or cooler before adding it to the yoghurt, as you don’t want to cook or curdle the yoghurt.
2. Minced garlic is lovely as is, but don’t be afraid to cook it to reduce some of its sting. The easiest, least wasteful way to do this is to microwave it in a small bowl for one to two minutes.
3. You don’t need a lot of tomato paste; it’s more for color than flavor, although it certainly does add a bit of flavor too.
4. Prepared horseradish has a lumpier, grainier texture than horseradish sauce, which has had sugar added. If you use the sauce, add less sugar. If you use the horseradish, you may wish to whisk it into a small amount of yoghurt before adding to the rest, if you like a smooth dressing, but if you like a dressing with texture, add it directly.
5. Dissolve the sugar into a small amount of yoghurt or tomato paste in advance, and blend well, before adding to the rest.
6. Pickle relish contains vinegar and yoghurt is a dairy product. Combine the relish with another wet ingredient (the minced garlic, mustard or tomato paste) before adding to the yoghurt, or if you’re not using any of those, add the relish last.
7. If you’re using fennel seeds, crush them well, in a sieve, coffee grinder or between your fingers. We like to use fennel leaf, those delicate little fronts, and a little finely chopped bulb. There is no need to cook fennel.
8. Don’t overdo the salt! Just a dash per serving will be fine.
9. Use a whisk to combine all the ingredients, to give your dressing a light, whipped texture. This will also distribute the ingredients more evenly than other kinds of mixing. (Use the paprika or tomato paste as a guidepost for thoroughness of blending.)
* Vinaigrette *
Ingredients (all optional except for oil and vinegar):
* Three parts oil
* One part vinegar
* Your favorite herb(s) (see ingredients list for creamy dressing recipe; dill is especially nice here, as is fennel)
* A dash of salt
* Crushed berries or other fruit
* Honey mustard or spicy mustard
* Brown sugar
1. Choose your oil! Most folks use a mild oil, such as extra virgin olive, or canola, but you may use a fragrant, flavorful oil that stands up to the vinegar, too. Peanut oil, dark sesame oil (the light is very mild) and walnut oil are all contenders.
2. Choose your vinegar! The more you want to taste the flavor of the oil, the less additional flavor you may want in the vinegar… unless, as we do, you wish to enjoy the battle between them! White wine vinegar is pretty neutral. Apple cider vinegar is sweeter. We like fruit vinegars, such as blueberry. There are also herbal vinegars, such as balsamic. As an inexpensive alternative, use the juice from your recently emptied jar of pickles if you like something tangy; if you’re using juice from a sweet pickle, use less sugar in the recipe. If you’re using dill pickle juice, you may not need to add extra dill. In any case, some of that juice is water, so you will need more; keep adding it, to taste.
3. Dissolve the sugar in a small amount of vinegar before adding to the rest.
4. Sieve berries or other fruit and add the juice (even if some pulp has come through) to the recipe. If you like chunks in your dressing, sieve coarsely, or even use the well-crushed fruit after sieving.
5. The easiest way to mix the ingredients you have chosen is to put them all in a capacious, tightly-capped jar and shake, shake, shake.
Either of these dressings can be made in quantity and stored in the refrigerator, but the creamy one won’t last as long as the vinaigrette, so don’t make more than you can use in a week or two. As always, if you have ingredients you would just love to try out in a dressing, go for it! Apart from the dictates of your taste buds, there are no rules.