Did you grow up with a bottle of salad dressing on the dinner table? Maybe even more than one bottle?
Excuse me, I have lots of salad dressing rants in me. Let me try to organize my thoughts.
When I was a kid, my mom used Good Seasons dressings (“Italian,” I think) that came dehydrated in foil packets. When you bought your first packet, it was rubber-banded to a curvy, empty, glass bottle with a green plastic snap-on lid. The bottle had markings on the side telling you how much water, vinegar and “salad oil” to add to the powdered ingredients. Cap it, shake it, and velò, you had a nice, golden liquid with little onion bits, black pepper, and tiny flecks of something red (probably bell pepper).
It looked like something. And you could be reasonably sure the ingredients were mostly benign. It tasted OK. Salty, probably too salty. Not horribly fake, though.
(By the way, have you heard the rumor that Col. Sanders’ secret 11 herbs and spices are the same 11 herbs and spices found in Good Seasons? Yeah, and that his recipe was most likely made with packets of dehydrated dressing.)
My mom would then pour a little of the dressing over the salad in a nice bowl, toss it, and then either put portions on our plates or pass the bowl around to the family.
No bottle of dressing on the table.
The leftover dressing would go into the fridge, where it would separate into geologic layers of chunky bits on the bottom, vinegar-water next up, and oil on the top. Shake it up again, and presto.
We did buy a commercial bottle of “French” dressing from time to time, a throat-burning, ghastly orange blend of salt and sugar (and mayonnaise, ketchup and paprika, I presume), that we were allowed to pour over wedges of iceberg lettuce... once in a while. It never separated in the fridge.
Cranky’s mom tried Good Seasons packets too. She mixed up a batch or two, but then decided the cool bottle with the snap-on lid was all she needed to make her own dressing. Which consisted, Cranky recalls, of nothing more than oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Plus, in a dashing gourmet touch, one clove of garlic rolling around in the bottom of the bottle. Cranky suspects it was the same clove of garlic for a long, long time. She was a frugal lady.
But again, no bottle of dressing on the table.
At this point, I can’t decide where to go with my rant.
Well, let’s go with bottles on the table. See, I think the cook should be responsible for the salad, including dressing it to his or her taste.
But what’s really going on with the bottles on the table is that each diner wants a different flavor of dressing, so out come the Ranch, the Thousand Island, the the increasingly diverse varieties of Honey-Poppyseed, Chipotle-Cheddar (honest), Dijon this-and-that, Three-Cheese Balsamic Vinaigrette, and – blow me down – there’s actually a dressing out there called “Spinach Salad.”
Now you’ve got a cluttered table.
Worse, you’ve got a cluttered refrigerator. Bottle after bottle of sugary goop, mixed with surreal food starches so the ingredients stay emulsified and don’t separate into layers (and oh, such mouth-feel). Gummy bottle caps. Drippy shelves.
Not to mention the fact that by pouring on the dressing individually at the table, you’ve surely added too much glop to your greens.
But wait! You don’t have to pour on your dressing anymore. Wish-Bone has introduced Salad Spritzers, which is sort of like throat spray for your arugula, which sounds a little too much like "gargle" in this sentence. Press the button, and you’ve got particles of high-fructose corn syrup, xanthan gum and soybean oil flying around your plate (and table, and floor…). Oh well, at least you have portion control.
OK, I’m ready to shut up. Here’s where I’m going with this rant:
Make your own dressings! They will be fresh, flavored the way you want, in manageable sizes so you can use them up and move on to new concoctions without having a cluttered fridge. Start simply if you are timid. I use a little jar with a tight-fitting lid to shake my dressings. I don’t go much beyond simple vinaigrettes myself, but that’s what I like best.
I can’t believe how many recipes I come across that promise to produce mouthwatering results – only to list bottled vinaigrette as one of the ingredients. Cucumber dressing? I don’t even know what that is. But it’s OK, the recipe author says I can substitute poppyseed. Poppyseed what? Muffins?
It turns out I’m not the only one ranting about salad dressings this spring. I had been collecting my thoughts for a week or so when I came across Hen Waller’s Salad Dressing Ramble from May 15; NPR’s Kitchen Window tackled the subject last month, to name two others.
Must be the nice weather.