November 03, 2010

Homemade Salad Dressings Save Money in the Kitchen

There is a general consensus in the food world that cooks (even beginners) should not buy bottled salad dressing. Why? Because it's so easy to make it better (and cheaper) at home.

Mark Bittman (I know! Will I ever stop writing about him?) breaks it down pretty simply in his How to Cook Everything: "Bottled dressing [...] is not much better than [...] an emulsion of inferior oil (usually soy or "vegetable") and liquid (often water, with some vinegar, especially in "low-fat" or "lite" dressings), seasonings (often artificial, or at least far from fresh), and preservatives."

Of course, Newman's Own and many other "guality" or "gourmet" versions of salad dressing contain higher quality ingredients, but why pay $7 or $8 a bottle of salad dressing when you could mix the same thing (or something even tastier) yourself for, like, one dollar?

Here's how simple my go-to dressing, Lemon Vinaigrette, is:

Sorry for all the product placement.
I'm not sponsored by any of these brands, but I'm willing to be!
Generally, I prefer my salad dressings a bit more acidic than most recipes call for (the typical rule of thumb is three or four parts oil to one part vinegar or other acid), and I rarely take the time to mix a dressing as simple as this before pouring it over the salad. I just add the juice of half a lemon, a splash (probably about two tablespoons) of olive oil, and a healthy sprinkle of salt and pepper to my salad, and then I mix it all together with the salad itself.

Here are the basic ingredients for a simple classic, Balsamic Vinaigrette:

Grey Poupon, you have my number, right?
This one is definitely worth making before you add it to a salad, because the mustard acts as an emulsifier, binding the vinegar and oil together so that the dressing itself is much richer, thicker, and less likely to separate than it would be otherwise. It's science.  

I recommend following the oil/vinegar rule of thumb here and mixing three parts oil (maybe six tablespoons) with one part vinegar (so...two tablespoons), then adding anywhere from a half- to a full tablespoon of mustard, depending on your taste. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well. You can blend this all together with a fork, a whisk, or a blender, or shake it together in a condiment squeeze bottle or a covered jar.

The best part about making your own salad dressing is that the possibilities are really endless. You can add a little honey to the Balsamic Vinaigrette if you prefer a sweeter dressing, or you can mix the ridiculously delicious oil leftover from roasting cherry tomatoes with a splash of balsamic to create a salad dressing so heavenly, God himself once gave me a pat on the back for it. Sorry, that was blasphemous.

Adding fresh or dried herbs to a simple oil and vinegar dressing will totally boost the flavor, too, and can even help you ensure that your side dishes match the flavor profile of your entrée (rosemary on lamb, for example, would be complemented perfectly by a pinch of crushed rosemary in your salad dressing).

The one thing I do recommend is that you stick with olive oil, by far the healthiest oil because it's high in monounsaturated fat. (By the way, I cannot believe that Rachael Ray has her own brand of EVOO in stores now...who knew that, by simply repeating your stupid pet name for something ubiquitous, you could make so much money? I'm going to start calling butter B-B-B-BUTTAH and see if I can get the same deal.)

This post is starting to feel disjointed, but I feel the need to say that I do realize, by the way, that the ingredients for these dressings have the unfortunate characteristic of high up-front cost. But imagine how many batches of dressing you can make from a bottle of balsamic--far more than the amount of servings you'd get from one bottle of store-bought dressing!

In the interest of being honest with you, my dear two or three readers, I must admit that I'm still guilty of buying some bottled sauces. I haven't had the guts, for example, to try making my own marinades or barbecue sauces for meat, even though I know it's ridiculously easy. Give me time, though. Some day, I'll make my own everything.

Except clothing. My high school math teacher used to make her own brightly-colored clothes about five sizes too big for her tiny, cross country-runner body, and she'd stick her hands in her giant square pockets and wrap her dresses around herself as she listened to us struggle to give un-stupid answers in Geometry, and it just gave me a bad impression of the whole "sewing" thing.

1 comment:

  1. haha! How about a trade? I'll sew, if you cook?