An investigative Report on Homemade Salad Dressing

Salad is good for you, but if you eat it with store-bought salad dressing, it becomes unhealthy. Commercial brands of your favourite dressings contain very high levels of sugar, salt, soybean oil (which is often a GMO product), and hydrogenated oil. Even a salad dressing that is purportedly “low-fat” will generally contain too much salt and sugar. I suppose the point of all this is that there is a perception that eating salad is some kind of necessary evil that one does for the body. Yet the concept of salad as an unpleasant medicine is undone anyhow by the wretched dressings bestowed upon us by our corporate overlords.

The solution to all this is simple; just make your own dressing. Making salad dressing is the easiest thing in the world, and, in the end, when you control the ingredients, you control the flavour and your own health. The main thing to remember when approaching salad dressing is that you can’t go wrong as long as you have a combination of oil and something sour, like lemon or vinegar. The next thing to remember is that a salad doesn’t need as much dressing as you imagine. A small amount of dressing, properly mixed into the greens, will suffice. It just isn’t necessary to drown an entire blow of lettuce in so much dressing that the leaves become invisible. If this is your approach, you might as well just drink the dressing from the bottle, because you aren’t doing your health any favours this way.

Here are a couple of easy favourites:

salad dressing - bottles

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

This simple dressing is pretty much all you need most of the time. A good rule of thumb is that there should always be about a three to one oil to vinegar ratio in the dressing. Thus, if you were making a small salad for two people, you could put one tablespoon of oil and one teaspoon of balsamic together. The ratio stays about the same no matter the volume of the dressing. All the other ingredients can be added on top of this original mix. Dressing is hard to mess up, so don’t fret too much about proportions. Mix everything in a cup, add a pinch of salt and then pour it over the salad and toss thoroughly.

Addendum: The wise editorial staff at Eat remind me that it is in fact easier to simply put all the dressing ingredients in a jar, close the lid, and shake them up. This is the easiest way to make dressing. I don’t know why I prefer to stir things in a cup, but I do. You could go any way that you pleased, dear reader.

The magical thing about this dressing is that there are infinite variations that can be added to improve it. If you add a teaspoon of grainy Dijon mustard to this dressing, you will have a creamier, sharper flavour. Similarly, you could add herbs, or an oil or vinegar infused with another flavour. I just picked up a sample pack of different oils and vinegars from Olive the Senses in the Victoria Public Market. Balsamic vinegar infused with maple flavour, for example, might enhance a salad that contained fresh fruit or certain nuts and cheeses. The main thing is to experiment.

With a few expanded ingredients, this simple dressing can also form the basis for such perennial favourites as French dressing, Caesar dressing, and others. I’ll return to this point later.

Naturally, the better oil and vinegar that one uses, the better the dressing is going to taste. It’s also possible to swap out olive oil, or mix it with a different oil: grape seed, walnut, truffle, etc. to achieve different flavours. Likewise, red or white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, or cider vinegar can always replace balsamic. One easy salad that I like to make involves whatever lettuce you like best, Mesclun mix for example, cherry tomatoes, walnut pieces, and soft chevre cheese. Put all these ingredients in a bowl and then crumble the cheese into it. On top of this pour your oil and balsamic (with mustard is nice, too) mix and then toss it until the cheese begins to disintegrate. The vinegar breaks down the cheeses and causes it to bond deliciously with the walnut pieces, as well as spreading thinly over the skins of the tomatoes. There isn’t much to this salad, but it is a sure crowd pleaser.

Miso, tahini, and lemon.

If, against all odds, you get sick of the oil and balsamic mixture and want to try something utterly different, this dressing is just the thing. In this case, the oil is represented by the sesame oil in the tahini. Take a tablespoon of tahini (preferably a liquidy one), a tablespoon of miso, and a half-tablespoon of lemon juice, and mix them all together until they form a viscous liquid. You can add salt to taste, but otherwise there is nothing else that needs to be added to this richly flavoured dressing. It provides a unique twist on days when your salad needs a little shaking up.

salad dressing - balsamic

French dressing.

Obviously, we don’t have time to cover every salad dressing known to humanity, but by special request, I’m adding a blurb about French dressing here. French, as it is known out of the Kraft bottles, gets its distinctive pink colour from ketchup. This might seem like an unusual think to put on a salad (or maybe it doesn’t) but it actually works nicely if used in the right proportion. Store bought French is sugar, salt, and fat heavy, though. If you want a home dressing that has a similar zing, try this:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp vinegar (I used balsamic, in keeping with the article)
  • 1 tbsp. ketchup
  • 2 tsp sugar (I used turbinado, but you could use honey, or agave, or anything sweet)
  • 1 large clove or garlic, crushed in a press
  • 1 pinch each of salt and black pepper
  • 1 small dash Worcestershire sauce

Mix all this together until the ingredients emulsify then add it to your preferred salad. It has the character of French dressing, but a bit more of a pop, in my opinion. You could also add mayo or mustard to make it creamier. The main point is that it takes no time at all to make a dressing, it feels impressive, and it’s healthier. We could talk for quite a while about dressing salads, so this is just a little starting push.

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Born and raised in the mysterious East (by which I mean Ontario and Quebec, not Asia), Adam migrated out to British Columbia in search of adventure and fortune. He had been at different times a scholar, a musician, a poet and a ...

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