Salad Dressing 101

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

My aunt Karen was a hippie through and through from recreational drugs to political views.  She was tragically diagnosed with cancer and given a six month diagnosis by her physician.  Always arguing authority, Karen did not accept the diagnosis.  She decided to take her health back into her own hands and made a 180 degree change in her diet.  She went from a baker enjoying flour and sugar to a super clean green eating machine and outlived her diagnosis by a decade.  My aunt Karen was a powerful inspiration for eating real food.

Real Food is Powerful

I loved to visit my aunt and her kooky bungalow in Santa Cruz.  We would walk down to the boardwalk, people watch and cook vegetables I had never heard of.  She had a compost pile in the front yard and re-used plastic containers from the store as table settings.  My aunt had the smallest carbon footprint of anyone I know and I admired her greatly.

Sweet, Bitter, Sour and Spicy

One of the best recipes my aunt shared with me was how to make a simple salad dressing.  It is about balancing the four flavors:  sweet, bitter, sour, and spicy.  We would grab a wooden bowl and a wooden spoon just as I still do with my kids and begin to experiment.  There is really no right or wrong here, it entirely depends on your taste.

Order is everything

Order is key for a luxurious, emulsified dressing.  Begin with a spoonful of dijon and 1 spoonful of real maple syrup until you find a balance of sweet and spicy.  Add 2 spoons of Balsamic vinegar and blend into the wooden bowl.  Finally drizzle 3 spoons of extra virgin olive oil and whisk until it emulsifies.  That means it will thicken like a sauce instead of staying broken like the vinaigrette in the photo.  It is delicious both emulsified and broken so don't worry too much about it.  Remember to always taste your dish before adding sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

The Possibilities Are Endless

I often allow my kids to be the chef in this endeavor because you simply cannot ruin the dressing.  If it tastes too oily, add more vinegar or vice versa.  If you end up with too much dressing, save some in a separate container for a marinade on steak or vegetables.  You can use any vinegar or even lemon or lime juice for the sour flavor.  As for bitter oils, use the best extra virgin olive oil you can buy or try walnut, or avocado oil for a real treat.  Be sure to stay away from all canola, corn or vegetable oils as they are processed in an unhealthy manner.  If dijon is not hot enough for you, try chipotle in adobo sauce.  Honey will replace maple syrup or can be left out all together if you are detoxing.  It is really a versatile recipe, but the most important tip is the better quality the ingredients, the better the taste.  A favorite of mine is to rub a hunk of blue cheese into the dressing, cut up a shallot and maybe add some fresh herbs.  I hope you enjoy the endless possibilities of this simple technique.