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Some Salad with your Dressing?

May 17, 2010

Note to readers: The essay below, in a slightly different iteration, was first published several years ago in the student newspaper at Regent College. So, the reference to ex-pats is appropriate, as Regent is in Vancouver, Canada, a place I loved living.

Because of Evelyn, I’m writing less but home more, so I’ll be posting some older writings. It is salad season, however, and spring lettuce is delightful with homemade dressings–especially these.

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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 colours 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 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 three of my favourite recipes. In contrast to my child self, 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: one-half cup)
1 ounce (about one-eighth of a cup) blue cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons cottage cheese, one-fourth 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: two-thirds cup)

1 teaspoon Dijon or coarse-grain mustard, 4-5 cloves chopped garlic, one-fourth 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), one-fourth teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Carrot Ginger Dressing (yield: 1 and one-fourth cup)
One-half cup grated carrot, one-half 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, one-half teaspoon sea salt, 1 clove chopped garlic

To make dressings: Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until emulsified. If you don’t have a blender, mix the blue cheese and carrot ginger 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 at specialty grocery stores or Asian groceries. It is available in several colors–the darker the color, the stronger the flavor.

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.

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