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Healthy Salad Dressing

What could be cooler than a crisp green summer salad? You know: plenty of dark leafy greens, ripe red tomatoes, purple onions, fresh herbs, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, peppers — you name it. So healthy! But salad is only half the picture. Personally, I could never eat a salad without the dressing; it seems to me the two make a very happy marriage. Why? Because behind every successful salad stands an incredible dressing! But the kind of dressing matters when it comes to keeping the relationship healthy. Too bad so many commercial salad dressings fall into the category of “junk” food. One quick trip down the salad dressing aisle at any conventional grocery store features an astounding array of bottled chemicals, sugars and high fructose corn syrup, overly-processed oils, chemical dyes and preservatives. All in the name of “good” salad dressing! Since I have no intention of creating conflict and eventual divorce between salad and its cohort, I’m in favor of a healthy salad dressing revolution. Good salad dressing not only adds great flavor but nutritional value as well. Salad vegetables, whether composed of leafy greens or other vegetables, contain fat-soluble nutrients such as Vitamin K and Vitamin A. This means they need fats and/or oils to be properly absorbed. You can add good quality expeller pressed oils, or forego the oils and add whole nuts or nut butters instead. You get the health benefits of nuts and seeds without adding any extracted oils. Since this is a topic near and dear to my heart, I’ve written about it before! In my “Making Your Own Salad Dressing” post, I walk you through the process of selecting vinegars, oils and other ingredients to mix up your own delightful dressing. So, not to repeat myself, I’m going to focus this post on expanding your dressing world a bit. Have you ever made a dressing from nuts, seeds or nut butters? It’s very easy and nuts and fruit can make for creamy, juicy and flavorful salad dressings without adding any extracted oils. Plus you get the health benefits of those nutrient-dense nuts and fruits. Here’s a starter recipe for a healthy salad dressing:
  • 1/3 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts, cashews, almonds or pecans
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh fruit, such as plums, peaches, blueberries or strawberries
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened soymilk (or fruit juice, such as pomegranate or orange)
  • 1 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (or vinegar)
Puree all ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender until smooth. For thinner dressings, add a little more soymilk or fruit juice. That’s it! Super simple. From here, experiment with a variety of nuts, seeds or avocado as a base and try different fruit like pineapple, grapefruit, kiwi and berries. For extra flavor, add fresh or dried herbs, sesame or flax seed, mustard, onions, garlic or shallots. Soaking dried fruits such as cranberries, dates, raisins or figs in hot water and adding to the dressing in place of half of the fruit makes a delicious, sweet dressing – a good complement to a fruit, vegetable or whole grain salad. Instead of whole nuts, you can also try nut butters such as almond or peanut butter or tahini (ground sesame seeds). Some delicious combinations are:
  • Cashews, peaches, orange juice and white wine vinegar
  • Almonds, blueberries, soy milk, and lime juice
  • Walnuts, plums, apple juice and lemon juice
  • Pecans, peaches, water and sherry vinegar
Some other ideas for additions that carry the flavors of the dressing are:
  • Varieties of prepared mustard (Dijon, honey mustard, spicy, etc.)
  • Fresh or dried herbs (basil, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, etc.)
  • Dried nutritional yeast (tastes a lot like parmesan, it’s dairy-free and has good B vitamins)
  • Onions, chives, garlic, ginger, radish, shallot, scallions, etc. – add flavor and punch!
  • Sea salt, miso (fermented soybean paste), gomasio (a combination of toasted sesame seeds with sea salt), white pepper, black pepper, ground orange or lemon peel, and a dash of kelp or dulse granules (sea veggies that add flavor and nutrients)
Here are a few more healthy, no-oil added dressing recipes: Making your own dressing really doesn’t take much time. Try it and see for yourself! Now, if you do buy some bottled dressing, be sure to look for preservative and additive-free dressings based on healthy natural ingredients such as vinegar, mustard and expeller pressed oils. Shy away from buying dressing with added sugar, fructose or high fructose corn syrup. You might try a fat free, low sugar dressing — you can always add your own nuts or seeds. Here’s to building good health through salad! If you have a favorite healthy salad dressing recipe, I’d love to try it!