Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Retrospective #290: My Healthy, Homemade Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

My Fitness Pal recently had a “cooking tip” titled, “How to Make Healthy, Homemade Salad Dressing.” I liked it for several reasons. 1) It was “relatable” in that it addressed the majority of households who still purchase salad dressing in bottles, 2) It was well written and easy to follow, and 3) I make a “killer” salad dressing myself (recipe later). Naturally, therefore, I also found lots to disagree with, opening the door for me to offer my healthy salad dressing.
The lede brought a smile to my face: “As a kid, I would have been happy to drink Hidden Valley ranch dressing out of a sippy cup, and I didn’t discover that a salad dressing could be homemade until a college summer abroad in Italy.”
I could relate to both points. Packaged salad dressings are tasty. They’ve been engineered in the processed food giants’ laboratories to be very palatable. And they are ready-made and convenient to use, so the argument against using them has to be a good one. With this in mind, I’ll assume that you have an interest in making your own salad dressing because you already know how BAD bottled salad dressings are from multiple HEALTH points of view. Invariably, they are made with very UNHEALTHY polyunsaturated “vegetable” oils, such as soybean, corn and Canola.
My Fitness Pal’s point about Italy is one we can all relate to. We’ll all eaten at a simple Italian Restaurant where flasks of olive oil and vinegar are on the table for you to pour into a small bowl filled with chopped iceberg, cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots. But for my taste, as healthy as that salad dressing is, it doesn’t appeal to me.
A simple vinaigrette, as My Fitness Pal point out, is made up of “oils, acids and other flavors.” The oils they list are olive oil, grape seed oil, sesame oil, nut oils and avocado oil; the acids: vinegars (e.g., sherry, red wine, balsamic, rice) and lemon juice; the “other flavors:” mustard, jam/preserves [!], herbs (e.g., parsley, basil), garlic, shallots, ginger, soy sauce, and tahini. To this, My Fitness Pal adds, and I quote, “+standard seasoning” (see below) and salt and pepper.
They illustrate that with a jar filled with 60% oil, 30% acids and 10% other flavors. Here’s where I pick my first bone. That ratio of oil to acid is just 2 to 1 (2:1). A traditional vinaigrette uses a 3:1 ratio, but I suspect My Fitness Pal proposed to cut the oil portion to reduce the calories from fat (oil). The problem is they then go on suggest that their basic vinaigrette dressing be supplemented with “+ standard seasoning,” which they call your “preferred sweetener.” A basic vinaigrette dressing does not use, as a standard seasoning, a sweetener, and using jam/preserve is a bad idea.
Then, they give the reason their basic vinaigrette dressing requires a “sweetener.” They say, “This is used to balance out the tartness of acids.” Well, if you use a 2:1 ratio of oil to acid, your dressing will be tart. If you use a 3:1, ratio it will not. If you’re worried about the calories from using more olive oil, it’s much better idea to make less dressing and then toss the salad thoroughly with dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Nobody likes a salad drenched in dressing!
My own French Vinaigrette is made from Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) and tarragon white wine vinegar (3Tbs:1Tbs), 2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic, a heaping teaspoon of Grey Poupon mustard, ½ teaspoon of salt and 50 turns of freshly ground black pepper. I put all the ingredients in a stainless-steel bowl and whisk thoroughly to emulsify them. Both vinegar and the mustard are natural emulsifiers, and the mustard is also a surfactant, so it holds everything emulsified. I usually make it ahead of time to let the flavors fuse. Then, just before serving, I whisk briefly and thoroughly toss the dressing with the salad until everything is evenly coated. This dressing recipe serves a large salad (4 large portions).
The salad we make is made up of washed and dried, then torn romaine lettuce, cut endive, sliced mushrooms, and usually some chopped hazelnuts, slivered almonds or toasted walnut pieces, and cheese. If we’re having company, we may shave some aged pecorino Romano on top, but usually we just add and toss in some grated or shredded Parmesan. I prefer my salad to be served separately on a side plate, but not in a bowl. At home, we mix the salad in a large wooden bowl which we put on the table so everyone can serve themselves.
Guests always comment on how good the dressing is, and it’s a healthy olive oil salad dressing. Why not give it a try? 

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