On Salads

By now you’re probably wondering if I weigh 400 pounds. There is a lot of sugar and butter and cheese on this site. First of all, I don’t eat all of it myself. I share. And whenever I eat something like a grilled cheese, or lasagna, I balance it out with a big salad. I am more worried about chemicals and preservatives entering my body than I am sugars or fats. I have almost eliminated industrial food from my diet (there are some things I am unwilling to give up, like: cheerios, dried pasta, and the occasional coke (preferably bottled in Mexico)). I am lucky, I live in a city with great bakeries where I can buy freshly baked organic bread and I have access to lots of stores and markets. It isn’t so difficult for me to avoid prepackaged foods. I know not everyone is so lucky.

An easy way to start improving your diet is with salads. I eat some sort of a salad for/with dinner every night. They are a great opportunity to improvise and they are so good for you. But it is important to make your own salad dressing. If you never listen to me about anything else, please start making your own salad dressing tonight. Even the best bottled stuff isn’t very good. The fact that they have such a long shelf life is enough to scare me away. I haven’t bought a bottle of salad dressing in years and am happier for it. Building a salad dressing takes less than 5 minutes, and you can make enough to last you for a couple of days. It is so superior and gives you control over what you are putting into your body: no weird oils, no corn syrup, no preservatives. Trust me on this one.

My everyday dressing is a basic vinaigrette. The process is simple and it starts with a shallot. Mince a shallot or two, depending on how much dressing you want. If you don’t have a shallot, go get one. Or try using a little minced garlic. Or both. Add some vinegar: red wine, champagne, apple cider—whatever you like. Add the vinegar early so the shallot can start macerating and flavoring the vinegar. Add some salt, pepper, and herbs. I often add dried oregano or any fresh herbs I might have on hand, (dill, oregano, thyme, sage, etc.) Follow that with some Dijon mustard and honey. Or not. Finish with some extra virgin olive oil, the most common oil to vinegar ratio is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, but I prefer more of a 1 to 1 ratio. I love vinegar. Shake or whisk to combine and you have a delicious fresh vinaigrette.

The salad pictured is from a recent dinner. Arugula, Radicchio, fennel, blood oranges, marcona almonds and ricotta salata. I used some rice wine vinegar and crushed fennel seeds in the dressing. It was delicious. Give it a try. Another good dressing idea from Thanksgiving is here. You’ll quickly get used to making dressing yourself and can adapt it to your tastes. Go make a salad!

15 comments to “On Salads”

  1. Citrus in salads this time of year are simply divine, aren’t they?

    I adore a fresh salad, and we even go a simpler route–just some fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and some Parmesan cheese shaved over a bed of arugula. It’s our go-to salad during the week, and now we bring it over to friends’ houses when we’re having a pizza night and there is a request for fresh salad to balance out all of the grease.

  2. You’re right. A homemade dressing will change the way you think about the bottled stuff. And once you have the basic dressing down, it’s so easy to improvise new ones. Beautiful salad!

  3. I started making my own salad dressings when we lived in London and had a TINY fridge. Everything you say is true – even the simplest homemade one is so much better than bottled. And I’m with you – 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio is way too oily for me!

  4. Wow I couldn’t agree with you more. I worry more about putting weird, fake stuff in my body than counting fat grams. But I should eat more salads. This one looks fabulous

  5. the occasional coke? understatement. ;) this looks yummy.

  6. I am ALL about that onion/shallot in the dressing business. It sort of pickles them in the best way. Gorgeous photos.

  7. Oh yeah. I’m all about the salad, but must admit, I have had some dressing intimidation. I’ve made a couple bad ones, and have lost confidence. I shall try yours. Thanks!

  8. Tim-

    Your food blog, which I just stumbledupon, is so charming that I wish I weren’t at work so I could go cook something.

    I will for sure enjoy checking back in to see (and hopefully try) your recipes.

    I can’t wait to be selfish with that caramel cake.


  9. this photo is totes gorge!

  10. elizabeth: i love that combination! one of my favorites too.

    heather: don’t give up! keep trying!

    thanks, whitney & sarah.

  11. if you love vinegar, try making your dressing with sherry vinegar. it is sublime. tart, a little bit nutty, completely transcendent. buy the good stuff from spain if you can afford it. you will not be disappointed.

  12. I just stumbled on your website and I’ve already fallen in love. I just moved from Chicago and miss all the amazing foodie spots that it has to offer. The Green City Market is my favorite place! I look forward to exploring more of your blog and to trying out your recipes. The salad looks delicious, I adore citrus fruits on salads, I often put grapefruit and avacado on mine with a simple vinegrette that I’ve whipped up! I’m definitely going to play around and try it with shallots and herbs.

  13. Terri Miller says:

    February 23rd, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    I really enjoy the simplicity and conversational approach to your recipes. It’s like reading a letter from a close friend who has chosen to share their cooking experience and meal with me. Your photos are so well done. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with the rest of us! All the best to you!

  14. Here, here! I wholeheartedly agree with you Tim. Everyone should listen to you and never touch another bottle of store-bought dressing. One thing I’ve found to make my viniagrettes even easier is having frozen pesto cubes on hand. Every fall when the herbs I’m growing are just past their peak, I pick every single herb leaf of whatever I have still growing and puree it with the usual pesto ingredients: oil, grated parmesan cheese, ground pine nuts, garlic, salt & pepper, and I add a little soy milk powder so it’s thicker and doesn’t separate. Freeze these in ice cube trays, then put them together in another container when they’re frozen, and one of these magic cubes in oil and vinegar is about all it takes. It has the taste of fresh herbs all winter long.

    I’m so inspired by your recipes and philosophy about food. I’m new to the site and will consult you often for recipes. I promise not to be so long winded in the future….

  15. Michelle, Terri and Renate: thanks so much for the kind words. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site.
    And thanks, Renate, for the good idea. I’ll definitely give it a try!

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