Posted by: A Part of the Solution | March 19, 2010

Salad Days

In Spring, a person’s thoughts may often turn to salad. It’s a food to match the season. The crisp, fresh greens pair well with the sharp breezes bringing softer weather.  And the dressing…. Ah, the dressing!

I love salad dressing. I love homemade salad dressing. I love homemade salad dressing to the point that most of the bottled stuff just doesn’t taste very good to me. Some of the flavors hold out a promise of vitality. Yet that promise never seems to go deeper than the name of the product.

The ingredients lists for these mass-produced items are the stuff of nightmares. I understand it’s not easy to keep the oil and the vinegar emulsified. But I don’t use carageenan or soy lecithin to maintain texture and prevent separation in dishes I create in my kitchen. And I didn’t use that sort of thing when I worked in commercial kitchens making salad dressing for three hundred.

Don’t get me started on the high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and other random sweeteners added wholesale to these dressings. And you really don’t want to hear how I react to the whey solids or the ‘spices’–never enunciated and often cloaking MSG. I want a dressing made with real ingredients, food stuffs I recognize from my own shelves.

So I make my own for the most part. I trained under Julia Child’s vinaigrette recipe. I learned early that mustard helps to make the emulsification: prepared mustard is an ingredient, even at the half teaspoon level, in all my salad dressings. I learned to balance salt with sour and use more salt than I usually did in most recipes. I learned to use part olive oil and let the rest be less flavorful so as not to overwhelm the veggies.

After I’d been at it for a while, I learned how to use honey and maple syrup to respond to more assertive greens with tenderness. I learned to use a blender to get the job done quickly and without a lot of mystical ‘one-drop-at-a-timing’–when I was short of time myself. I learned to trust my instincts.

Avocado, Arrugula and Grapefruit Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

1 TBSP mustard

1 TBSP honey

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 TBSP lemon juice

2 TBSP poppyseeds, ground in the coffee grinder

3 1/2 TBSP oil, olive and canola blended

1 grapefruit, supremed

1 avocado, peeled and sliced and laid in a bowl with the grapefruit sections so that they don’t brown

1 bag prewashed baby arrugula, 12-16 oz

In a small bowl, combine the first six ingredients with a fork. Now start adding the oil (drop by drop unless you want to do this in the blender). After you’ve added about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the oil, increase the amount to a tiny thread, still stirring constantly. The dressing will thicken as you continue to add the oil. Add the oil more quickly, still stirring, until it’s all gone.

Pick the stemmiest bits off the arrugula. Toss it with about half the dressing. Let it sit and fatigue a couple of minutes. Portion it onto four to six plates. Add a few slices of avocado and sections of grapefruit to each plate. Drizzle a little more dressing on top of the salads with the fork. Voila!


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