Friday, July 23, 2010

CSA 11: Salad dressing

I make the best salad dressing.  No really.  Sounds a bit conceited I know, but I really do.  It’s more of a salvation then anything.  See – I really dislike lettuce.  But I know salad is good for me (health-wise and weight-wise) plus except for one week, so far I’ve gotten lettuce in every CSA share so far.  Plus let’s face it, salad is an easy thing to bring for lunch.  But everyday it’s boring and if you dislike lettuce, everyday is borderline torture… unless you have great dressing. 

The first key to great dressing is flavorful liquids.  I’ve noticed a lot of people will make dressing with only two liquids: oil and vinegar - and only one is particularly flavorful.  While oil and vinegar are an acceptable dressing, lets face it, its not “great dressing” (even if you use the very best oil and the very best vinegar, its still just oil & vinegar) and quite honestly it’s not all that healthful or affordable.

So before I get into dressing let me first discuss one of my favorite key ingredients – to dressing but also to almost all savory recipes that call for liquid.  Homemade vegetable broth.  It’s the easiest thing you can make and it’s essentially free (you can make it from garbage!) and it adds not only flavor to foods but also a big dose of nutrients.

Now you can go out and buy (or even grow) a bunch of whole vegetables, roughly chop them, simmer them and make vegetable broth.  But that’s not really the most cost effective method.  Instead try this: Get a medium-large storage container (the one I use is 1.5 quarts) and make space for it in a convenient space in your freezer.  Now every time you cook or prepare vegetables dump all your scraps in it – pepper guts, tomato stems and seed goo, outer layers of onions, garlic papers, the stems of your fresh herbs and your greens, carrot ends, etc.  You can also add your not so fresh veggies vegetables – you know that carrot that’s gone rubbery but isn’t moldy, the sprouted garlic or the wilted greens.  And you can add fruit too – apple cores, lemons you’ve already zested and squeezed, etc. Keep the bin in the freezer slowly adding to it each time you use vegetables.  Once it’s full dump the frozen vegetable scrap lump into a large pot and fill with water.  I usually add a bay leaf too.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for about half an hour (less for weaker broth, longer for stronger).  Strain out the solids and voila you have vegetable broth.  I separate the broth into 1 cup and 2 cup storage containers and freeze them so I can just pull as much broth as I need when I need it.  I always have at least one defrosted in the fridge for easy access. 

Use this broth when you cook rice, quinoa, lentils, bulgur or any other savory grain to impart some flavor and nutrients.  Use this broth whenever a recipe calls for water or chicken broth. Use it as a base for soups, stews and roasts.  And use this broth to make great salad dressing.

Now my basic herb dressing calls for a 1-1-2-2 part recipe.  Which is to say 1 part vinegar, 1 part oil, 2 parts broth and 2 parts fresh herbs – make your “parts” as large or small as you want depending how much dressing you need; I generally do about ¼ cup parts.  I like to make it in the food processor to really get the herbs finely chopped and the get the liquids to blend.  You just put everything except the oil in the food processor (along with some salt and pepper) start it going and then drizzle in the oil.  You’ll probably need to stop at least once to scrape down the sides.  And there you go. Great herb dressing (try it as a marinade too).  And because you loaded it with broth its lower in fat then a straight oil & vinegar dressing, plus its higher in nutrients, and because its broth not water, you don’t sacrifice any flavor.

You can use any herbs, even dried ones (if you use dried herbs, knock it down to 1 part instead of two).  Basil, dill, thyme, cilantro, scallion, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary – any combination of whatever you have on hand.  I’ve also used onion and fennel in my dressings when it’s handy.  And after my cousin sent me a blog about kale, since I had tons of kale I’ve started adding a leaf or two of kale to the mix which makes for a very very green dressing and undoubtedly improves the healthfulness but doesn’t seem to affect the flavor much.

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