I was weaned on bottled dressings poured over iceberg lettuce salads.
There were three basic choices. When my two younger brothers dared to drizzle dressing on their salads — and most of the time they chose (shiver) dry lettuce — they adorned it with something called “Catalina,” a vivid orange, very sweet dressing.
My personal favorite was blue cheese, or as we called it at my house, Roquefort. Our feisty Boston toy terrier, Pepi, loved both kinds of salad dressing, if not the lettuce that frequently fell off my brothers’ forks.
Finally, there was Italian, but that was strictly for grown-ups. Even kids who weren’t weaned on soda pop craved sweet things. Clearly salad dressings had more hidden sugars than we knew.
During the ’70s, salad bars were all the rage, but despite the addition of imitation bacon crumbles, fried chow mein noodles, broccoli tufts and showers of sunflower seeds, the dressings were less than imaginative and heavy enough to drown even the sturdiest romaine.
In the ’80s, ranch was the rage, and the pickiest (or most weight-conscious) of my college roommates started asking for dressing on the side. I didn’t need to watch my girlish figure back then, so I poured it on, figuring rationing salad dressing was absolutely no way to go through life.
When I started buying my own groceries, I bought fancier jarred dressings in search of better flavors to adorn my boutique salad greens. But my taste buds eventually tired of the gloppy concoctions I brought home that usually went to waste in the back of the fridge.
As a newlywed, I received a copy of a cookbook by the Colorado Junior League titled “Creme de Colorado Cookbook.” After taking my first tentative steps at bringing salads to potlucks, I dutifully began to write down the responses to each salad and its respective dressing in the book.
More recently I began to realize that it wasn’t the salads per se that were winning raves — it was the dressing. Sure, it helped that the underlying salad had evolved to a sophisticated spring mix of lettuces with richer colors and flavors. Today I still rely heavily on five go-to dressing recipes from the “Creme” cookbook.
I have found these recipes work on just about any salad I whip up using ingredients I have pulled out of the refrigerator and pantry. If I were banished to a deserted island, I would add an Asian-inspired recipe as well, but otherwise these pretty much have me covered.
I put the dressings into heavy rotation for two weeks at the holidays when we had family visiting from Brazil. At the end of their stay my nephew said the thing he would miss most about the meals I prepared were the nightly salads.
To my taste buds, homemade vinaigrettes taste better than store-bought dressings with lots of emulsifiers and preservatives, sodium and sugar. Most of these homemade dressings will last three to five days in the refrigerator.
HEARTY ITALIAN VINAIGRETTE
This vinaigrette is robust and works with a lettuce salad garnished with antipasto ingredients such as artichoke hearts, olives, chickpeas, red onion, pepperoncini and slices of pepperoni.
Makes about 1 cup
- 6 tablespoons virgin olive oil
- 2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chili sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon Italian Herb Seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a blender, mix all ingredients until well combined.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 97 calories (94 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), trace cholesterol, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, 89 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
CREAMY MUSTARD DRESSING
I have no idea why the directions to this recipe are so resolute. Could I add the mustard after the heavy cream? Oh, who am I to argue with chemistry that works. This salad dressing is simply decadent. I once served it on a spinach salad. Main entree was gumbo.
Makes 1 3/4 cups
- 2 hard-cooked eggs, mashed with a fork while still warm
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 5 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
One at a time and in order, thoroughly blend all other ingredients into mashed eggs. Do not substitute. When blended, whisk until smooth.
Per 2 tablespoon serving: 98 calories (91 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 34 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 100 milligrams sodium trace dietary fiber.
This recipe reminds me of spring, and I frequently serve it on a spinach salad for Easter. Since there are so few ingredients, be sure to buy the best raspberry vinegar and jam you can afford.
Makes about 3/4 cup
- 2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
- 2 tablespoons raspberry jam
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
Combine vinegar and jam in blender or small bowl. Add oil in a thin stream, blending well.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 124 calories (85 percent from fat), 12 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 5 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 3 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
SESAME AND POPPY SEED DRESSING
This dressing is excellent on any type of spring lettuce salad starring fruit.
Makes about 1 cup
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated onion
- 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
In a blender, combine sugar, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and oil. Slowly add vinegar until dressing is moderately thick.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 173 calories (77 percent from fat), 15 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 10 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 2 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
This curry vinaigrette is wonderful on iceberg lettuce or spinach. The original recipe pairs it with seedless grapes, mandarin oranges and slivered almonds. It also tastes delicious drizzled over avocado slices.
Makes 1 cup
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
Combine ingredients in a lidded jar. Shake well.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 111 calories (89 percent from fat), 11 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 36 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.