You Give Me Fever

The above salad was photographed last July when my family was on holiday cruising the Baltic. I will include some photographs and remarks one of these soon days. We visited six countries in 15 days. Our final stop was Stockholm. We went to a stunning spot famous for their Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. Yours truly wore the dissident hat and instead ordered the Nicoise salad. It was spectacular. I eat salads like a machine. Each and every day I make a meal out of one. Sometimes vegetarian and other times not. According to my food magazines, salads for breakfast are the new thing. I can digest salads and they help keep my diet on track (Saturdays almost always excluded). I enjoy salads most commonly at lunchtime but now that the weather is so stunning, I like to pair one with dinner too. Leftovers are a free-for-all. Having a fridge full of salad fixings keeps costs down too. What is simpler than serving a gorgeous piece of meat alongside a creative salad? When we entertain, I make a medley of salads. Check out the recipe section of Beets and Bratwurst and you will find a section for salads. If I am missing something, please let me know. 

Salads are healthy, light and packed with fiber as well as all the other good stuff that does a body good. Conventional salads are deemed as boring by many but when fresh ingredients are handled with TLC, they take on an adventure of their own. Once you start to build a masterpiece, you won’t stop. The possibilities are literally endless. You needn't use lettuce, kale or spinach as a base. Why not roast some beets or squash and build from there? If you have a great knife and a bit of time on your hands, preparing your own masterpiece is my preferred way to go. For those who do not, grocery stores do a masterful job of selling bags that can be emptied into a bowl, mixed, spruced up and enjoyed accordingly. Often times, I see people in the shops scouring the labels of many a things but more often than not, salad dressings. I am all for this exercise. After all, it is imperative that we know what is going into our bodies. We have all been coached to steer clear of bad fats, too many grams of sugars, additives and other things that will stampede any efforts at maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For salad dressings however, why not eliminate the guess work as well as humming and hawing and make your own.

Salad dressings are a cinch to prepare and literally take under a minute. Seriously, in the time it takes to peel the paper off a store bought bottle and shake, you are in business. All you need is some staples as well as a vessel for shaking and housing. I like mason jars. Salad dressings fall into two categories: vinegar based and cream based. The latter is usually the less healthy variant but anything can be tweaked to yield opportune results. Do you have a recipe calling for sour cream or creme fraiche? Substitute Greek yogurt and save your calories for something else. I can almost guarantee that once you begin testing with your own home ingredients, you will never even consider buying salad dressing at the grocer again. Sesame oil with garlic and ground mustard is phenomenal. We also enjoy sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, a dash of soy sauce or tamari, chopped ginger and brown sugar. Right now, I am thinking about balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, chopped chives and olive oil. A dollop of pesto would be remarkable here too. Or a tablespoon of honey. Rosemary, Dijon and tarragon vinegar will change your life. A decent Balsamic vinegar will carry you a long way. Invest in some. Garlic, tahini, hot water and lemon juice yields a beautiful, creamy interpretation. Please see the recipe below. I have a Green Goddess dressing that is made with avocados, cream, olive oil and a medley of fresh herbs and I can say with conviction that it will stop you in your tracks. Below are a few of my favorite salad dressing recipes. Shake your money makers (or mason jars for that matter) and happy dressing.

Stock the Kitchen

In order to prepare the most basic salad dressings, I recommend keeping the following on hand. Please note that the below goodies last forever thus making them a good investment. Growing your own fresh herbs is also a fun route to navigate. You save so much green plucking from the backyard versus buying 2.99 packets every time. You can always tizzy dressings up with chopped garlic, ginger, fresh herbs and the likes. Bottles of potions on countertops equates to looking like a boss in the kitchen. Carry on.

Extra virgin olive oil
Flaxseed oil
Grapeseed oil
Lemons (I keep a bowl of them on hand at all times)
White wine vinegar
Red wine vinegar
Balsamic vinegar
Dijon mustard
Whole grain mustard
Light mayonnaise
Tahini - found in the international section of your grocer
Miso paste - found in the international section of your grocer
Brown sugar
Maple syrup
Pecorino or parmesan cheese

Lemon Tahini Dressing (Reynolds Ranch favorite at the moment)

The juice of 2 lemons
2 TBS tahini paste
2 cloves of garlic - chopped
2 TBS boiling water
Kosher salt

Mix the tahini paste with the boiling water and stir until uniform. Now add the lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of salt. Give everything a mix and you should have a lovely, creamy dressing minus the dairy. Taste. Knockout, right?

Old Faithful (NOT the geyser)

3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil for a nuttier flavor
1/4 cup of vinegar - balsamic or white wine
Pinch of salt
Cracks of pepper
Optional - add chopped herbs like chives, thyme or rosemary, chopped garlic and if you want this a bit sweeter, honey, agave syrup or brown sugar. 

Throw all ingredients in the mason jar and show me what you're working with!

Pesto Vinaigrette

2 TBS pesto (see kale pesto recipe below) - I am also a fan of the Trader Joe's pesto
Juice of 2 lemons
1 TBS flaxseed oil

Throw all ingredients in the mason jar and once again, show me what you're working with! For a delectable variation, substitute 3 TBS balsamic vinegar for the lemons and add 1 TBS of honey or maple syrup.

Herb Vinaigrette

Fresh chopped herbs including – tarragon, chives, flat leaf parsley, thyme
2 tsp French Dijon mustard
4 TBS white wine vinegar
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together the mustard, olive oil and chopped herbs. I am very generous with the herbs but you can hedge your bets here.

Carrot Ginger Dressing
Adapted from It’s All Good 

4 large carrots - roughly chopped
1 shallot - peeled and chopped
1/4 ginger - peeled and chopped - this is around 5 inches
2 TBS miso paste
2 TBS honey
2 TBS sesame oil
1/4 rice vinegar
1/4 water
1/2 cup grapeseed oil - this is also fabulous for your skin!
A pinch of kosher salt
A couple of cracks of fresh pepper

Puree everything in whatever you usually use to puree (I use a Cuisinart). Use this to dress any and everything! Finger dipping strongly encouraged.

Elizabeth's Caesar Salad Dressing

3 anchovies packed in oil - chopped (keep anchovies in the fridge, they add pizazz to everything)
2 cloves of garlic - chopped
2 egg yolks
The juice of 1/2 lemon
1 TBS Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worchestire sauce
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
5 TBS of Parmesan or Romano cheese
Pinch or two of kosher salt
Lots and lots of fresh cracked pepper

Put all ingredients in a food processor, blender or Cuisinart and mix. Sample and season to taste.

Thousand Island Dressing

1/2 cup of Hellmann's light mayonnaise (Matthew prefers Duke's)
2 TBS French salad dressing - please note that this is my one exception to buying store brand 
4 TBS sweet pickle relish
1 TBS minced white onion - you can nick this from finely grated above
1 TBS white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar

Mix the mayonnaise, French salad dressing, sweet pickle relish, minced white onion, white wine vinegar, sugar and salt. Give a generous stir until you have a sauce that looks familiar. Cover in wrap and put in the fridge. The recipe calls for refrigerating this in advance. I must admit however that I tasted the sauce directly after mixing and tasted it again three hours later. Both results were outstanding. If you are in a time pickle, simply pull all ingredients together and go for it. This is the jam on cheeseburgers.

Kale Pesto

1 head of kale - chopped
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil
½ cup pine nuts - toasted  
2 garlic cloves - chopped
The rind of one lemon - grated

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Prepare a large bowl with ice and water.  Once boiling, add the kale to the water for three minutes.  Use tongs to remove the kale and quickly dunk in the ice bath for a pair of seconds.  This stops the cooking.  Drain and wring out any excess water. Add the kale to your food processor along with the Parmesan cheese, olive oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic and grated lemon rind.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Puree until it is smooth and you have a creamy kale pesto on your hands. Taste and adjust salt as necessary. This also pairs fabulously with pasta or as spread on a sandwich.

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