Salad Dressing

This weekend we are going to start planting our spring/summer garden. We are fortunate enough to live in Southern California where the frost rarely occurs and sunshine is the norm. I live in a very typical residential neighborhood, except unlike some suburban enclaves, we can walk to a lot of places including a great taco stand, markets, restaurants, the subway and several cafes. We also enjoy just walking around the park and through the neighborhood. One of the things that I have noticed about several of my neighbors is that they grow things. One has a garden in their front yard (cordoned off by shrubs); another has many different gardens all around their property and many have either maintained or planted various fruit trees. Within a few blocks there are lemons, meyer lemons, apples, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, cumquats and figs. The local garden stores are packed on the weekends and so are the farmers markets. This is all good news for those of us that believe our future is all about sustainable, local food.

There are many complementary food products that we take for granted. Sometimes called condiments, we don’t often consider them as “food”. Our cupboard and fridge are full of bottles and jars of stuff that gets squeezed, spooned and poured all over our wonderful, organic, whole foods. The problem is that we go to so much trouble to make sure we are buying good food for our family that has no junk in it and then out comes the catsup. I completely understand. I love catsup, mustard and mayo on my french fries and can’t fault my kids (or wife) for habits and tastes that they have grown up with. Not until I can show them another way.

This is the first in an occasional series of recipes for condiment replacement. When you look at the contents of the most used of these squeezables, most can be made really easily with common, fresh ingredients. I’m starting with the easiest to replace: salad dressing. In my book, I talk about finding the salad dressings in the supermarket because right next to them are usually the products that you need to make salad dressing.

This is really more of a formula with many variables, than a specific recipe. There are many dressings that one can make from their imagination as long as the basic concept is understood.

Ingredients

  • Fat (Olive Oil, Vegetable Oil, Nut Oil, Cheese)
  • Acid (Lemon, Vinegars, Orange, Grapefruit)
  • Flavor and Texture(Garlic, Shallots, Spices, Herbs, Nuts)

Tools

  • Bowl
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Whisk or Fork
  • Squeeze Bottle or Jar (optional)
  • Taste Buds
  1. Choose your ingredients. I always have at least vinegar and oil on hand.
  2. Combine your acid and fat. Generally the ratio is 2:1 Fat to Acid. Taste and adjust. Some olive oil is really strong and less is required and the same is true for old balsamic vinegar. Champagne vinegar may need to be a little more. It is all about whisking together and tasting until the balance is to your liking.
  3. Prepare the flavor component: Mince garlic or shallots, grind nuts, chop herbs.
  4. Whisk or blend together. Texture is going to depend on these last ingredients. Sometimes it’s nice to make a really smooth dressing in a food processor or blender (see Strawberry Vinaigrette) and other times it’s nice to have chunks of blu cheese or pine nuts. 
  5. Just use as little as you need and refrigerate the rest. You can never make too much salad dressing.
Use your imagination. It’s the one thing that we all have, even if you think you don’t. When you walk down the salad dressing isle you look at the bottles and think: “That would be good on my salad tonight.” Just take it to the next step and ask yourself: “What is in the bottled stuff that I like?” I’m sure it’s not the preservatives. Oh, it’s the tangy lemon. Buy a lemon. Or, it’s the creamy blue cheese. Buy some cheese. 
Please write me with your own dressing ideas.
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