Saturday, June 11, 2011

Addressing the Dressing

Can I get something off my chest?

Fat-free salad dressing makes me want to cry.  It’s a sickly-sweet, syrupy disaster in your mouth.  It adds no dimension.  It leaves you unsatisfied.  It makes your food taste sad.  If vegetables really do have feelings, fat-free salad dressing probably makes them want to commit suicide.

Who hasn’t experienced the frustration of dining with a dieter who refuses to partake of the salad unless they have their fat-free salad dressing?  How I want to grab these poor souls by the shoulders, shake them senseless gently, and lead them toward the light.  I have actually thought about starting a movement: People Against Fat-Free Salad Dressing.  We would demonstrate in front of commercial weight-loss centers, holding signs that read, There is a better way!

whoops, that's from the Rally to Restore Sanity

Because the fact of the matter is this: even if you are trying to shed some pounds, a tablespoon or two of full-fat salad dressing will not make it or break it.  But the plate of brownies that you attack later because dinner left you feeling unsatisfied and you feel like you haven’t eaten any real food all day because you haven’t… will.

Trust me, I’ve been there.  During my senior year in college, I was desperately, earnestly, obsessively dieting to lose the ten pounds that had crept onto me by a steady stream of free pizza and dining hall soft serve.  I was also repeatedly, decidedly, self-loathingly failing.  I had a housemate at this time who was abnormally normal about food.  That is, she ate three balanced meals a day, which she and her boyfriend prepared themselves.  You can imagine how strange this appeared to the rest of us.  Anyway, she once picked up my bottle of fat-free salad dressing, examined the ingredient list, and proclaimed:

“There’s no food in your food.”

And I thought, “Uhm, hello?  That’s, like, the point!”

as if!

I didn’t really get it until years later once I myself had begun to entertain the radical notion of eating three balanced meals a day.  Even now, as a nutrition student and future RD, I have never met a colleague that recommends fat-free salad dressing.

Why?  Two main reasons:
·      First of all, there are fat-soluble vitamins in that salad you’re eating.  Your body will not absorb them as well if you don’t’ eat enough fat with your meal.  Makes sense, right?  Fat-soluble vitamins like fat.
·      Second, fat lends two amazing qualities to the sensory experience of eating.  It adds texture to foods (a property we call “mouthfeel”), and it helps you feel full (“satiety”).  Basically, it makes eating your salad an enjoyable and satisfying experience, instead of a chore.

So I’m going to leave you with a recipe for salad dressing.  It’s very easy to make, cheaper and tastier than store-bought, and it’ll keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.  Now you can actually use that salad dressing shaker that’s been sitting so neglected in the back of your cabinet!  Or do it the poor shabby chic way like me and repurpose a glass jar with a lid.

Homemade Red Wine Vinaigrette
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Great Food Fast

Ed. note: the original recipe calls for white-wine vinegar.  Given that it’s a Martha Stewart cookbook, I’m surprised it didn’t call for champagne vinegar.  Martha probably has all sorts of crazy-expensive esoteric vinegars.  She might even have her own distillery.  But I only had cheapo red wine vinegar on hand, and it worked perfectly well.  So go ahead and use any ol’ kind you want.  I won’t tell Martha.

Makes 1 cup

¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
coarse salt and fresh-ground pepper
pinch of sugar
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, crushed

Dump all ingredients into jar or salad dressing shaker.  Cap tightly and shake like mad.

Spoon it on and feel righteous.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

After the Storm Chickpea Curry

We Bay Staters awoke this morning to clear skies and bright, almost overpowering sunlight.  It almost seemed a mockery of yesterday's destruction and devastation.  We were lucky here on the eastern side of the state: we had some wicked thunder and lightening last night, and nothing but wind gusts and a slight chill in the air today.  And, perhaps, a certain amount of disbelief that such a disaster could happen all the way up here.

You could say that a storm has been raging inside me, too.  More subtle, of course, than the aforementioned, but nevertheless wreaking havoc on my peace of mind.  Perhaps it's because I'm approaching a crossroads: an end of an era, so to speak, and a beginning of another.  The impending change frightens me, and I doubt my choices, my judgement, my path.

But this morning, as I stood regarding the light and the swaying branches outside, I felt a clarity enter me, still yet purposeful.  For the first time in a long time, I did my work without complaint; even gladly.  I walked through the neighborhood briskly, smiling, shoulders back and chin up.  I had things to do, and I was happy to do them.  Could you ask for anything better?

And all of a sudden, as though returning from a vacation -- I had an urge to cook something.  Something warming, hearty, and comforting in the wake of the storm that had passed, but at the same time light and sweet: a hint at summer, sunshine, and the good things that lie ahead.

After the Storm Chickpea Curry
adapted from Mollie Katzen's get cooking

The bonus about stews like this is that if you can manage to save some leftovers, the flavors deepen over a day in the fridge.

ed. note: I halved the recipe; it worked just fine.

1 T canola oil
1 t butter
1 medium red or yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping T curry powder
1/2 t salt
2 15-oz cans chickpeas
2 heaping cups frozen mango chunks
a handful of fresh cilantro, rinsed and roughly chopped, stems discarded
1 lime, sliced, for serving
A few dashes cayenne pepper, for serving
2 cups white or brown basmati rice, cooked, for serving (I prefer white rice here -- it's a little bit softer than brown, and provides a nice textural contrast to the heartier texture of the chickpeas)

Place a large heavy skillet over medium heat.  After a minute, add oil and swirl to coat pan.  Add butter, and swirl until it melts into oil.  Add onion, garlic, curry powder, and salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse the chickpeas in a colander.

Add the chickpeas to the skillet, stirring until they become coated with the onion-spice mixture.  Then turn the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the mango (still frozen!) and some cilantro, if you wish, and cover the pan.  Let it cook on its own for another 5 minutes.  Stir once more.

Serve atop 1/2 cup rice.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice, and cayenne pepper to taste.  Smile to yourself.