Salad dressings: Dressed to please

See your salads come alive with these delectable dressings

Gone are the days when salad meant a boring old plate of chopped bland lettuce tossed with slimy dressing. Today, salads are taking centre-stage as complete meals. And, to a large extent, this trend can be attributed to the variety of ready-to-use dressings available in the market.

Be it a combination of antioxidant-rich vegetables, protein from eggs, meat, or grains [think quinoa!], plus a topping of favourite nuts/seeds/dry fruits, on a bed of fibre-rich greens, or a simple plate of crudités arranged appetisingly, a delectable dressing can bring any salad to life .

Why dress?

The simple answer, of course, is to add flavour and make the salad more appealing to the palate. But then, doesn’t it also add more fat?

You might be happy to learn that some amount of fat actually enhances the absorption of nutrients from the vegetables in the salad. And, to get the most absorption from the least dressing, monounsaturated fats, found in canola and olive oils, work best.

Have these in your pantry

Salad dressing is typically divided into two broad categories: the simple vinaigrettes, which are an emulsion of oil and vinegar with seasoning to taste; and the thicker sauce-like creamy concoctions that can double as dips.

Vinaigrettes are easy to make. With just a few staple ingredients, making endless combinations of dressing can be quick and fun.

Start with: Extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, stone-ground mustard or dijon mustard or cranberry mustard, ground black pepper, lemon juice, salt, in the pantry.

Then, add on soy sauce, rice vinegar, Italian seasoning, agave nectar, ground cayenne pepper or chilli paste [sambal] for the multiple uses these condiments lend themselves to.

And lo! We have a veritable arsenal for making anything from zesty Italian vinaigrette to sweet-sour Asian vinaigrette.

Creating a show stopper

The basic vinaigrette starts with three parts oil to one part vinegar.

To this, we can add a bit of mustard, a pinch of cayenne or black pepper, a dash of salt, perhaps a touch of agave nectar for that mild sweetness, some favourite dried herbs, and adjust it all to taste. Of course, the 3:1 ratio of oil and vinegar is flexible. Depending on the strength of the vinegar and the type of oil, the ratio can be adjusted.

There are numerous ways to infuse flavours into the basic vinaigrette—an Italian-inspired dressing with oregano, basil and parsley; an Asian-inspired one with soy sauce, ginger, sambal; or the fusion-Indian version with cumin, coriander, and chilli powder.

Prefer ready-made instead?

With the variety of healthy options in the market, choosing one that suits your taste is rather easy. Keep a few things in mind while reading the labels.

  • Is the ingredients list short, with mostly recognisable items rather than an inventory of a chemical lab?
  • Low-fat dressing may not always be the best choice—compare the sodium and sugar content of the low fat and the regular dressing of the same kind.
  • Carefully check the serving size while reading the labels. While serving size of a certain brand is listed as two tablespoons, that of another might be just one tablespoon. And, what we end up using on our salad may be as high as four tablespoons.

dressed-to-please-2-260Dressing for kids

For kids, a creamy dressing served as a dip is a good start. One of the easiest to make for kids is a protein-rich hummus-based dressing: whip some cooked chickpeas, olive oil and red wine vinegar in a blender, with enough water to get the creamy consistency. Experiment with flavours by incorporating some garlic, parsley, olives, or eve sun-dried tomatoes to the blender while whipping. And, if your kid prefers a mildly sweet dip, add a touch of agave nectar. Adjust salt to taste.

Another creamy dressing that kids love is a simple yoghurt-based one, with no mayonnaise: whip together thick Greek yoghurt, olive oil, dill weed, celery seeds, dry parsley, dry chives, garlic powder, and ground black pepper, adding salt to taste.

For a robust Asian flavour: blend some soy sauce, rice vinegar, a combination of canola and sesame oil, a dash of distilled white vinegar for some extra tang, grated ginger, a touch of mirin or agave nectar and a smidgen of sambal oelek.

From pear-gorgonzola to creamy blue-cheese, blending flavours from around the world to make one’s own dressing is limited only by one’s imagination; and possibly the availability of the ingredients.

And, by preparing a handful of different vinaigrettes and dips over the weekend, packing a healthy salad for lunch becomes a breeze. Here are some ideas.

  • Shredded broccoli and kale stems, along with carrots and shredded red cabbage makes a great slaw salad.
  • Chopped romaine lettuce hearts with cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, topped with toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds is perfect with some Greek vinaigrette.
  • Substitute lettuce with a handful of fresh baby spinach leaves for reaping a greater health benefit.

Whether served warm or at room temperature, either composed or tossed, your choice of dressing livens up the salad.

Composed or tossed?Salads can be served in two ways: tossed and composed. A composed salad is when the ingredients are artfully arranged on a platter or plate and the dressing is drizzled on the top. A tossed salad is just that, greens, veggies, even grains and beans, tossed together in a bit of dressing and served.

Courtesy: Patty James, pattyjames.com

This was first published in the November 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing

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