dressing

Salads are

  • a great source of fiber
  • an excellent way of getting multiple fruit and veggie servings
  • a filling dish that usually has a low-calorie count

But, having a salad alone doesn’t ensure good nutrition. Too much cheese, fried meats and bread can ruin a healthy salad. Another culprit is the salad dressing itself. Store-bought dressings have lots of trans fats, sugars, artificial ingredients and a surprising number of calories.

So, what’s a health-conscious, calorie-conscious person to do?

Start from scratch! Homemade salad dressings give you the flexibility to use fresh, natural ingredients and make healthy substitutions where they are needed.

Salad dressing is one of those foods where we tend not to notice how much we’re putting on and, if you’re watching calories, they can add up fast. One tip for keeping serving sizes reasonable: It really only takes a small amount of an oil-based dressing to coat the leaves of a salad. The trick is to put a small amount in a bowl and toss the salad very well. This not only uses less oil, it tastes better when the salad has an even coating of dressing instead of being poured on the top.

It’s quite surprising how much sugar and other carbohydrate can be added to salad dressings, so keep sweeteners to a minimum.

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The best oils for salads dressings have high amounts of monounsaturated fats. Olive oil is probably the best choice, at 73% monounsaturated fat and it also has other good-for-you nutrients. Canola oil has 59% monounsaturated fat.

In the summer when fruits, vegetables and fragrant herbs are in abundance, homemade dressings are refreshing drizzled over just about anything. When you think healthy, you don’t think creamy, cheesy salad dressings. But, there are definitely ways to balance taste and nutrition without giving up either. Making healthy substitutions to your salad dressing is not as challenging as it may seem. In fact, it’s rather easy.

Herbs (dill, chives, rosemary), spices, garlic and shallots help add flavor to any salad dressing. Red or white wine vinegar, lemon or orange juice (or any citrus) and chicken or vegetable stock are low-fat and can replace some of the oil when making a vinaigrette. Mustards like Dijon can also replace a portion of oil as well as add thickness to the dressing. Classic vinaigrettes generally contain a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 ratio of oil to vinegar. Using some of the ingredients mentioned above, you can bring those calorie numbers down, yielding a healthier and more flavorful dressing.

Tofu might not seem like an obvious substitution choice, but pureed in the blender it’s a perfect base for a creamy dressing. Tofu is also a great source of protein and calcium. Low-fat sour cream and low-fat plain yogurt also make good substitutions in creamy dressings, like Thousand Island.

The key is to reduce the high calorie and fat ingredients and bump up the ingredients that add flavor and texture.

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Balsamic Herb Vinaigrette

Balsamic vinegar, a reduction that comes from grapes, is a low-calorie liquid; a tablespoon only has about 14 calories. Additionally, it’s low in sodium and fat, making it an excellent base for a healthy salad dressing.

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves of minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves or 1 tablespoon of minced fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves or 1 tablespoon of minced fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Whisk everything together and set aside until you are ready to make a salad.

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Creamy Herb Dressing

I like this drizzled over seafood salads.

Makes ½ cup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons refrigerated egg substitute or 1 large pasteurized egg yolk
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (packed) fresh dill leaves
  • 1/2 cup (packed) fennel fronds
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Directions

Pulse egg, garlic and vinegar in a food processor until smooth. With motor running, gradually drizzle in oil and process until emulsified. Add dill and fennel and process. Add a tablespoon of water, if needed, to make the dressing the consistency of heavy cream; season with salt and pepper.

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Orange-Poppy Seed Dressing

Delicious over a fruit salad.

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Directions

Combine first 5 ingredients in a blender; process until blended. Pour into a serving bowl and stir in the poppy seeds.. Cover and refrigerate.

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Blue Cheese Dressing

Excellent over roasted beets.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill.

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Homemade Coleslaw Dressing

Dressing makes enough for half a medium cabbage and one carrot, shredded.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise 
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar 
  • 1 tablespoon honey 
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced onion 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry yellow mustard 
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed

Directions

Combine all ingredients. Cover and chill.

Mix with your favorite coleslaw ingredients the day you are planning to serve the coleslaw. Chill the coleslaw before serving.

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Healthy Caesar

Yield:1 cup – 8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces cubed Parmesan
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 11/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 11/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup silken soft tofu
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Starting on the lowest speed, chop the cheese cubes in the blender until it settles into the bottom of the jar, gradually increasing the speed. Add the garlic down the chute and chop until minced.

Next, add the mustard, white wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt,pepper and tofu to the blender and blend until smooth. While the blender is running, drizzle olive oil down the middle and blend until it reaches salad dressing consistency.

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Dressing for Salads with Fruit and Nuts

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Whisk together the vinegars, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk in the oils. Taste and adjust seasonings.

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Thousand Island Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions

In a blender or food processor blend all ingredients and salt, if needed, until smooth, adding up to 2 tablespoons additional water, if necessary to thin to a desired consistency.

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Yogurt-Feta Dressing

Good over sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper.

Directions

In a blender or food processor, combine feta, yogurt, 1/4 cup olive oil, mint, lemon zest and juice; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Blend or process until smooth, adding more oil if you need it to reach a smooth consistency.

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