Fats & Acids Edition
I’ve been lucky enough to participate in the Crossfit South Bend community in the last few months. And I’m really impressed by how thoughtful many people are about food. In honor of the diversity of food values I’ve come across, I thought I’d share my approach to salad dressing. I think that some fundamental principles might help you cater your dressing to your own ethical, nutritional, and epicurean values. While people who cook a lot already know this concept well, I’ve realized that it is not so obvious to everyone. This is based on how my mother taught me to make salad dressing, and what I passed on to my roommate who is not a cook by any stretch of the imagination.
In general: fat + emulsifier + acid = salad dressing. Most of the diversity you see has to do with the types of fats & acids used, and the ratio of fat to acid, along with additional herbs, seasoning or sugar. Even mayonnaise operates on a similar principle.
Fats are things like oil, avocado, or even bacon grease. Acids are things like citrus juice & vinegar. Emulsifiers are things that help the fat and acid blend together well and keep them from separating, mustard and creme fraiche, honey, and tahini are examples.
Traditionally, dressing is about one part acid to three parts fat with a small amount of emulsifier. My 1975 copy of the Joy of Cooking offers a basic recipe of:
1/2 teaspoon salt,
1/8 teaspoon pepper,
1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice,
1/4 teaspoon mustard
3/4 cup walnut or olive oil.
About the time fat became diet enemy #1 people started making dressing with more acid and less oil. Problem is, they also started adding more sugar or weird fillers to counter the acid. Like a lot of folks now, I see good quality fats as a beneficial part of my diet, and prefer dressing that looks a little more like my grandmom’s than something off of a weight-watcher’s menu. Of course, its easy to tweak recipes back and forth to your liking.
The last thing you need to know is good blending procedure. I either do this with a whisk in the bottom of my salad bowl before adding greens or shaken in a bottle with a good lid to use throughout the week. Simply put, combine your acid, emulsifier, and and any herbs well, then add your fat slowly, fully incorporating a little bit at a time. This video from the Food Network does a better job explaining than I ever could. Also check out this Food Network article for more good combos.
Here are some combinations I like (in Fat + Acid + Emulsifier + Seasoning order):
Avocado + Lime Juice + (no emulsifier needed) + garlic and cumin (in the food processor) on top of spicy south of the border style chicken or beef.
Walnut oil + Lemon Juice + Mustard + pepper & poppy seeds on spinach or peppery greens like arugula.
Olive oil + Balsamic Vinegar + Mustard + basil & rosemary on mescaline mix and tomatoes.
Olive oil with a splash of Sesame oil + Rice Vinegar + Tahini + ginger & garlic as marinade for chicken breast or as dressing for cabbage slaw.