Sunday, February 5, 2012

No Salad Dressing?!

When you're avoiding vinegar and lemon juice, salad dressing becomes a major problem. When I order a salad without dressing in a restaurant, this happens about nine times out of ten:

Me: No dressing on the salad please.
Server: You sure?
Me: Yes.
Server: You can substitute a different kind of dressing.
Me: No thanks, no dressing will be fine.
Server: I can bring it on the side. You might like it.
Me: No thanks.
Server: You sure?
Me: Yes.

If I add that I can't eat vinegar, it usually prolongs the conversation as the server tries to come up with an alternative.

I understand why this happens. Salad without dressing is a foreign, ridiculous idea to most of us. The standard Midwestern "filler" salad of iceberg lettuce and a few shreds of cabbage is really just a receptacle for dressing. It doesn't taste so great plain. Even good mixed greens are boring to eat alone. If you're going to make a salad you can genuinely enjoy without dressing, it needs to mix a variety of vegetables, textures, and flavors.

Here is how to do it:
  • Start with flavorful greens: spinach, romaine, arugula, etc. But don't fill your bowl mostly with greens; they're just a small part of a dressing-less salad.
  • Add at least three other vegetables: carrots, mushrooms, sprouts, roasted or raw bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, celery, green onion, etc. The more textures the better.
  • Consider adding fruit, fresh or dried. Pears have become a fairly popular salad addition, but blueberries and raisins are also delicious.
  • Include beans for flavor and protein. I like black beans, chickpeas, and edamame (soybeans), but any beans will work.
  • Add nuts or seeds. Sliced or chopped almonds are my favorite, but sesame seeds, chopped walnuts, and pecans are good too. 
  • Include a bit of cheese: Parmesan, goat, feta, shredded cheddar or mozzarella, etc.
  • Consider cooking something. Grilled vegetables and toasted nuts add even more flavor.
  • Use good-quality ingredients. Slightly wilted lettuce won't fly without dressing.
If I am choosing a salad at a restaurant, I look for these elements. Panera has a Thai chicken chopped salad that tastes amazingly good without dressing because it follows these guidelines.

There are also several ways to make your own low-acid salad dressing. In the U.S. we think all salads need acid, but that isn't understood as necessary everywhere. A popular salad in Argentina is a carrot salad, which is made only with good-quality shredded carrots and olive oil. Here are some low-acid dressings:
  • A good olive oil. Try also walnut or almond oil, which are a bit sweeter.
  • Canola oil + fresh mint + parsley + ground coriander + honey = sweet dressing. Good for shredded shredded green cabbage + blueberries, or carrots + raisins.
  • Olive oil + goat cheese + lemon zest + salt + pepper. I like this on fresh peas.
  • Canola oil + crumbled feta + oregano + onion powder + salt + pepper = Mediterranean dressing.
  • Plain Greek yogurt + finely chopped cucumber + fresh mint + lemon zest = Greek-style dressing.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot! These are really good ideas. I've been dealing with reflux/LPR for a year now and one of the things I really miss is Italian vinaigrette. Your post makes me feel like there is some chance of enjoying salads again!