Diving into homemade salad dressings
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Diving into homemade salad dressings

Sep 08, 2023

Russian, French, Italian, Green Goddess, Caesar, Thousand Island, Blue cheese and Ranch…a salad without dressing is like a cake without icing, at least that is the case with me, and I would image you as well. Due to the popularity of my previous column about salads, I thought it would be appropriate to delve into salad dressings to top it off.

Observing the shelves in the supermarket, I noticed the varieties of prepared salad dressings have diminished from years past. Perhaps it is because people realize it is quite simple to make dressing from scratch.

Did you know?

• In 1907, commercial mayonnaise was sold for the first time in Philadelphia.

• Store-bought salad dressings were originally packaged in wooden jars.

• It was nearly 2,000 years ago when the Babylonians used oil and vinegar for dressing greens.

• Julius Caesar didn't invent salad or dressing. The original Caesar salad dressing recipe did not contain pieces of anchovy. The hint of anchovy flavor comes from the Worcestershire sauce, one of the ingredients in the sauce. Caesar Cardini, the original creator of the salad, was opposed to using anchovies in his salad.

• Refrigerator dressings found in the produce section are growing faster than the rate of shelf-stable dressings, according to research company Nielsen.

• There are many variations of vinaigrette. It is made with vinegar and oil and a host of spices and herbs and is lower in calories than dressings using mayonnaise.

• Thousand Island dressing was named for the area of upstate New York where the dressing was first prepared.

According to an article in the Washington Post: "Russian dressing was an American-made concoction invented by James E. Colburn of Nashua, N.H. Exactly why he called it "Russian" is not certain: Some say it was because of the caviar, while others say it's because the dressing was designed to top a Russian-inspired salad known as Salad Olivier." The article also mentions Thousand Island dressing and its beginnings: "Thousand Island traces its roots to (and is named for) the region between northern New York state and southern Ontario, Canada. While some hotel chefs in Manhattan and Chicago claimed to be the originators, there is evidence that the wife of a fishing guide in Clayton, N.Y., Sophia LaLonde, was the first to make the dressing in the early 1900s. It quickly became a popular, and was offered at inns and hotels in both the Thousand Islands region and in major cities."

Green Goddess dressing was created at Palace Hotel in San Francisco in the 1920s for actor George Arliss, who stayed there while performing in the play, "The Green Goddess."

So, what is the most popular salad dressing? According to a study by The Association for Dressings and Sauces, Ranch is the most popular dressing in the U.S. And, don't you think the most popular dressing deserves a cookbook, well, there are several cookbooks dedicated to America's favorite, including one of my favorites "Ranch: "An Ode to America's Beloved Sauce in 60 Mouth-Watering Recipes," by Abby Reisner. Also in the top five are Italian, Blue cheese, Thousand Island and Caesar.

My go-to book for making salad dressings is an older title, "Well Dressed," by Jeff Keys (2011, Gibbs-Smith, $16.99). It might be out of print, but many copies are available online.

His newer title, added to my collection, is, "Seventy-Five Homemade Salad Dressings" (2015, Gibbs-Smith, $14.99). It is a redesign of his first book with many new recipes.

The Vintage Restaurant in Sun Valley, Idaho, once owned by Keys, is where he whisked up dressings year-round using seasonal ingredients. He writes, "Dressings can transport you through every season and carry you to far-off places and cultures through their many diverse ingredients and surprising combinations of color, texture, flavor and temperature." Colorful illustrations by Sara Brenton in the newer book capture the essence of the recipes better than a photograph of the dressing.

Chapter one includes vinaigrettes, such as fire-roasted green chili; sesame mint; warm celeriac and lemon; fresh basil and Parmesan; fresh blueberry and orange; and the recipe on the page excerpted from the book, for mango, sweet onion and fresh thyme.

The section on international dressings includes Asian sesame ginger dressing and Spanish spicy orange and cumin dressing.

The chapter with slaw and creamy dressings includes New Orleans slaw dressing; Caribbean slaw dressing; honey-orange dressing for fruit salad; and creamy blue cheese dressing.

The mix-in dressings chapter includes tomato ranch dressing, Texas barbecue ranch dressing and creamy wasabi dressing. So what is a mix-in dressing? Think "a doctored store-bought dressing." He writes, "Buy a bottled dressing and then customize it by mixing in added ingredients to enhance the flavor, creating a simple and unique dressing of your own." How he got this idea is a cute story he shares in the book.

Keys concludes the book with "Salad Inspirations," where he talks about salad becoming much more than a course in the meal; it has become the meal itself. Recipes here include Chinese egg noodle salad; arugula, fennel and Italian hard salami bread salad; and asparagus and artichoke heart salad. Convenient are the icons that denote vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and gluten-free optional recipes.

I found the headnotes giving suggestions for using each dressing recipe helpful as you’ll see in the recipes here.

The headnote says, "This dressing is great for summer pasta salads. Pour it over penne, olives, tomatoes and fresh herbs and you won't go wrong."

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

2 teaspoons dry whole leaf basil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup snipped fresh basil

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 ½ cups light olive or vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients, except the oil, in a bowl until well-blended. While whisking, drizzle in the oil. Store in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

The headnote says, "This dressing works great for cool noodle salads with an Asian accent. Try tossing the dressing with Chinese egg noodles, bean sprouts, baby bok choy, toasted sesame seeds, thinly sliced veggies of your choice, and some barbecued chicken or pork. It's delicious."

2 tablespoons grated ginger

1 clove garlic

2 green onions, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon tamari

1 tablespoon fish sauce

3 teaspoons light-colored honey

3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

2/3 cup light vegetable oil

Sea salt

Add all the ingredients, except the salt, to a food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times until dressing is an even texture. Add salt to your taste. Stays fresh for up to a week in the refrigerator. Makes 1 ½ cups.

The headnote says, "This recipe idea comes from my great friend and food co-conspirator Candy Durham. Candy has a wonderful feel for food and never fails to come up with great ideas. This is one of her best, ever, and it has stayed in my restaurant repertoire. It is not only a great salad dressing, but also a fabulous dip for veggies and a spread for sandwiches."

1 (24-ounce) bottle Hidden Valley Ranch dressing

2/3 cup good-quality prepared chili sauce

¾ cup crumbled blue cheese

Put all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until thoroughly blended. Tore in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Makes about 4 cups.

The headnote says, "My mom made this dressing every holiday season for her amazing, molded fruit-and-nut Jell-O salads. This dressing is the essence of simplicity, so use it like my mom did or as a dressing for a mixed fruit salad."

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

1 cup good-quality plain yogurt

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

In a bowl, dissolve the honey in the orange juice. Mix in the yogurt and orange zest until they are evenly blended. Store covered in the refrigerator and use within 3 days. Makes about 1¼ cups.

Stephen Fries, is Professor Emeritus and former coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, in New Haven, CT. He has been a food and culinary travel columnist for the past 15 years and is co-founder of and host of "Worth Tasting," a culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven, CT. He is a board member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. [email protected] For more, go to stephenfries.com.

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