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.

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