Warm weather means enjoying the season with cool, crunchy salads filled with yummy seasonal veggies. So hearty and refreshing! What are you pouring over yours, though? Not a store-bought salad dressing, I hope! Make your own salad dressings in a few simple steps. It's worth it for flavor and health.
I haven't bought salad dressing in years (with one pregnant craving exception for a specific vegan Caesar, that is). Ounce for ounce, they're one of the most expensive purchases in the supermarket, and pretty unnecessary. One bottle can be gone in a few days, and even if you're a militant recycler, the toll of producing all those bottles in the first place is heavy on the environment.
Often times, store-bought salad dressings are loaded with unhealthy oils (like soy or canola); even if they say they're made with olive oil, they may often contain a blend of oils. This is done to cut down on costs as olive oil is far more expensive than soy or canola.
Bottled salad dressings also typically contain stabilizers like xanthan gum or carrageenan. And other un-yummy ingredients like maltodextrin and even harmless enough sounding "natural flavors," which don't have to be all that natural or—worse—they're so natural it's gross: raspberry “flavor” often comes from the anal gland of a beaver. But at least it's natural, right?
Many of these ingredients can also be genetically modified, or derived from GMO sources. But since there are no GMO labeling requirements in the U.S. it's difficult to tell.
But dressing is a cinch to make, and you have so many variables to play with!
For a basic balsamic vinaigrette recipe, I mix about ¼ cup balsamic with ¾ cup of olive oil. I squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and add about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Then whisk until well blended. To this you can also add a teaspoon of honey, chopped garlic, and lots of fresh herbs. I love throwing in some chopped parsley. Savory is nice, as is a bit of basil. You can also add in a few pinches of celery seed for a cool flavor.
Now, for a creamier dressing, which can be just as essential in summer, I turn to tahini. The creamy sesame seed paste is so versatile and so yummy. Plus it's loaded with calcium for strong bones.
For a creamy dressing, I start with ¼ cup of tahini. Depending on how thick it is (this will vary by oil content in the paste), I add anywhere from ¼ to ½ cup of water. The best rule is to start with a very little bit of water at a time, adding more slowly. Better to start with less than more. When it's just about as thin (or thick!) as you like it, squeeze in the juice of one lemon. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and mix well. You can stop there or add herbs, garlic, and spices. I like crushed coriander seeds for a lighter dressing. For a spicier kick I'll add ½ teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds and some crushed red pepper flakes.
Tahini dressings go incredibly well on salads and also make a terrific addition atop a bowl of rice and beans or inside a burrito along with guac, salsa, and all the works. You can also reduce or eliminate the water altogether and make a thick tahini spread that's kind of like hummus, just without the chickpeas. Totally yummy!