Because it’s been such a cool summer (at least until now) the lettuce from our CSA has been pouring in. Usually, by the end of July, we’re only getting cooking greens.
But my lettuce container reminds me of the story of the widow’s oil jar in the Bible. It keeps filling up, as if someone gave it a blessing.
Several years ago, I wrote a piece called “Some Salad with Your Dressing?”. Here it is–revised, along with a new dressing recipe. One note: I wrote this while living in Canada, hence all the ex-pat references.
In the early 1980’s, when salad bars were everywhere, my little child brain realized that these ice-filled trays full of chopped vegetables, canned fruits, imitation bacon bits, and croutons were my opportunity to forgo lettuce. I would fill my bowl with cherry tomatoes, croutons, sprouts, canned peaches, cottage cheese, croutons, shredded carrots, croutons, and my choice of salad dressing. I remember examining the colors of the dressings, wondering what the difference was between the two white ones. Then, I had no favourite dressing. I’d ask family members what they selected and why. Now, predictably enough, my favourites match those of my parents: Italian and bleu cheese.
People’s choice of salad dressings can be somewhat telling about them: lemon juice and pepper (thin and weight conscious?), ranch (not an adventurous eater?), Italian pronounced “Eye-talian” (definitely from the Midwest, particularly North Dakota). Even the way salad dressings are purchased and stored can indicate one’s heritage. Once, in a moment of frustration common to many ex-pat Americans, I expressed my own American sentiments: “There is nothing more embarrassingly American than a refrigerator door full of half-empty plastic bottles of salad dressing.”
In order to avoid this American stereotype, you may, of course, make your own dressings. Homemade dressings lack preservatives, plastic bottles, and embarrassing names such as “Double Spur Texas Golden Ranch Dressing.” Because they have a short shelf life compared to their grocery-store counterparts, they must be consumed fresh. In addition they are cheaper, once you have the required staples, and taste great. The following are four of my favourite recipes. In contrast to myself twenty-seven years ago, I now make simple salads—greens and dressing. Remember to tear and not cut your lettuce leaves to avoid brown edges.
Blue Cheese Dressing (yield: 1/2 cup)
1 ounce (about 1/8 cup) blue cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons cottage cheese, 1/4 cup milk soured with vinegar or lemon juice, pinch salt and pepper, 1 small clove chopped garlic, chopped green onion leaves or chives (optional)
Tomato Vinaigrette (yield: 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon Dijon or coarse-grain mustard, 4-5 cloves chopped garlic, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 3 tablespoons tomato juice, 1 teaspoon honey or sugar, 1 teaspoon miso (or salt, but miso is better), 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Carrot Ginger Dressing (yield: 1 1/4 cup)
1/2 grated carrot, 1/2 cup soft tofu, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons miso, 2 teaspoons chopped, peeled fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon honey, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1 clove chopped garlic
Feta Dressing with Oregano and Mint (yield: 1 scant cup)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon chopped oregano, 2 teaspoons chopped mint, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese, salt and freshly ground pepper
To make dressings: Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until emulsified. If you don’t have a blender, mix the blue cheese, carrot ginger, and feta dressings in a bowl with a wire whisk until well blended. For the tomato vinaigrette, chop garlic etc. very finely and place the ingredients in a glass jar with a lid or martini shaker. Cover and shake well.
Notes: Miso is fermented soybean paste that can be found at Asian and specialty food stores. It is available in several colors–the darker the color, the stronger the flavour.
On Substitutions: Feel free to substitute other vinegars and oils for what is listed, but extra-virgin olive oil is the best choice for salad dressings. Fresh lemon juice is best, but bottled will work, too.