- 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.
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.
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.
- 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
Whisk everything together and set aside until you are ready to make a salad.
Creamy Herb Dressing
I like this drizzled over seafood salads.
Makes ½ cup
- 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
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.
Orange-Poppy Seed Dressing
Delicious over a fruit salad.
Makes 1 cup
- 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
Combine first 5 ingredients in a blender; process until blended. Pour into a serving bowl and stir in the poppy seeds.. Cover and refrigerate.
Blue Cheese Dressing
Excellent over roasted beets.
- 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
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill.
Homemade Coleslaw Dressing
Dressing makes enough for half a medium cabbage and one carrot, shredded.
- 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
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.
Yield:1 cup – 8 Servings
- 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
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.
Dressing for Salads with Fruit and Nuts
- 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
Whisk together the vinegars, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk in the oils. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Thousand Island Dressing
- 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
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.
Good over sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.
- 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
- Freshly ground black pepper.
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.
- Homemade cilantro salad ranch dressing recipe (mirrorofyourhealth.wordpress.com)
- Salad Night (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Fruity Spinach Salad with Peachy Balsamic Vinaigrette (cantstayoutofthekitchen.com)
- Strawberry Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette (foodophilic.wordpress.com)
- Roasted Chickpea Salad with Barbecue Dressing (glutenfreeinga.wordpress.com)
- healthy eating: kale salad with lovely vignaigrette dressing (rawsilkandsaffron.wordpress.com)
- Cause a Stir with these Sensational Salads (fillyourplate.org)
- Tangy Herb Vinaigrette (seasonsforcooking.com)
- Easy Vinaigrettes and Salad Dressings (freshfoodperspectives.com)
Salads are no longer the bowls of lettuce and tomatoes of yesterday. Today’s modern salads are full of zest and flavor and are often served as meals in and of themselves. Some of the most diverse salads are those that come from Italy. Authentic Italian spring salad recipes provide light, flavorful alternatives to heavier meals and bring a little taste of Old World Italy to your dining table, often with ingredients that are already in your kitchen.
A classic insalata mista (salad of mixed greens) often combines a variety of whatever salad ingredients are freshest and in season. Romaine and other Italian lettuces, Belgian endive, arugula, radicchio, dandelion greens, very young radish tops, sorrel leaves, chive flowers or fresh young herb leaves (oregano, basil or thyme) are a few of the possibilities.
Italian Salad Making Basics
Greens should be loosely wrapped in damp paper or cotton towels and refrigerated until shortly before the salad is to be prepared. Using wooden utensils will help avoid bruising tender greens.
Extra virgin olive oil is always the most essential ingredient and that is usually simply combined with white or balsamic vinegar or lemon, which is especially common in the central southern region of Italy. Only in the last generation or so have Italians begun to explore more elaborate vinaigrettes and dressings.
In any discussion of salad dressings, there are just a couple of things to keep in mind: Always apply the dressing just minutes before serving it, otherwise, the vinegar or lemon will wilt the lettuce leaves. Only dress the amount of salad you intend to eat. You can store the rest in the refrigerator with a wet kitchen towel on top of it. (Tupperware is perfect for storing salad; just be sure the lettuce is thoroughly dry.) If you have any leftover salad dressing, most can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days or more.
Another very important thing to remember before applying whatever dressing you choose, is that it is crucial that you thoroughly dry the lettuce after you’ve washed it; there is nothing worse than a salad with soggy lettuce. If you use a spinner-which is a really great invention-after the first spin, be sure to stop and turn the lettuce. Sometimes the leaves act as a kind of a screen, impeding the water from actually being expelled. If you spin and turn the lettuce a couple of times, you can be sure to enjoy a crisp salad later.
For most green salads, the serving bowl and individual salad plates should be chilled slightly, while the dressing should be at room temperature.
Classic Italian Vinaigrette
Yield: About 1 1/2 cups
Make this dressing up to a week ahead. Add it sparingly to greens along with cracked black pepper.
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Coarse salt to taste
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground cracked pepper
Combine lemon juice, vinegar and salt in small bowl or jar. Stir to dissolve salt. Whisk in olive oil. Let stand 10 minutes. Add pepper add additional salt, if desired.
One of the most flavorful of traditional Italian spring salads is also one of the easiest to prepare. Insalata Caprese is a light, savory salad made from tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, olive oil and seasonings. To prepare: slice four large, ripe tomatoes into slices 1/4 inch thick. Slice 1 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese into 1/4-inch thick slices. On a large platter, place tomato and mozzarella slices along with fresh basil leaves in intermittent layers. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Before serving, sprinkle with cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste. Serve cold.
The most classic version of Italian spring salad contains fresh ingredients such as grated Parmesan cheese, fresh garlic and black olives. To prepare: in a medium-size bowl whisk together 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of water, one clove of roasted and finely minced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of dried, crushed oregano. As you whisk the combination, slowly add 4 teaspoons of olive oil. Set the mixture aside. In a large, separate bowl, combine 4 cups of mixed spring salad, one medium yellow bell pepper cut into thin strips, one fresh red onion cut into rings and 1/4 cup of fresh black olives. Toss salad until well mixed and then top with dressing mixture. Before serving, season with fresh ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. Serve cold.
Insalata Primavera is a light, but hearty salad that will easily substitute for heavier dishes for warmer weather lunches or suppers. To prepare: in a large bowl, combine 18 cooked, yet still firm, asparagus spears that have been chopped into 2-inch pieces, 1/2 pound of fresh green beans that have been cooked and cut in half, six cooked and sliced artichoke hearts, three large peeled and diced tomatoes and 1 thinly sliced peeled cucumber. In a medium-size glass jar, combine 2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup of your favorite white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped basil and salt and pepper to taste. Place a lid on the glass jar and shake vigorously until mixed well. Drizzle the dressing over the salad before serving. Serve cold.
Arugula Salad with Salami and Pecorino Cheese
- 1/2 clove garlic, pounded to a paste with a pinch of salt
- 1-1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice; more as needed
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 bulb fennel, trimmed
- 4 large handfuls arugula, about 5 oz, washed and dried
- Kosher salt
- 4 oz piece of stick salami, cut into 1/8- to 1/4-inch dice
- 3 oz aged Tuscan Pecorino cheese, cut into 1/8- to 1/4-inch dice
Combine the garlic and vinegar or lemon juice in a small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes. Whisk in the oil. Taste and add more salt or vinegar, if necessary.
Just before serving, use a mandolin to thinly slice the fennel. In a large work bowl, combine the shaved fennel with the arugula, salami and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens.
With a delicate hand, transfer the salad to a platter or individual serving plates, making a fluffy pile of greens. Sprinkle the salami and cheese that have fallen to the bottom of the bowl on top. Serve immediately.
Tortellini Salad Italiana
- 2-9 oz packages fresh cheese and spinach tortellini (refrigerated, prepared according to package directions)
- 2 cups yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 cup fresh small mozzarella cheese balls (bocconcini), halved
- 1 cup tomato vinaigrette dressing, recipe below
- 1/2 cup prosciutto, thinly sliced
- 12 cup basil, thinly sliced
- black pepper, fresh cracked
Combine prepared pasta, bell peppers, cheese, vinaigrette, prosciutto, tomatoes and basil in medium bowl. Sprinkle with pepper. Refrigerate for 1 hour
- 1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cups fresh tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
- 4 tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves
- 4 tablespoons chiffonade basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
- 2 minced shallots
- 6 tablespoons lemon juice
In a nonreactive mixing bowl, combine the diced tomatoes, herbs, shallots, lemon juice and 1 1/4 cups olive oil. Mix to combine and season with salt and pepper.
Warm Bean Salad With Fresh Herbs and Olives
An excellent side dish to meat or fish. Also good with shrimp added to the salad.
- 3 cups cooked and drained white beans (or canned). If made from dried beans, save about 1/3 cup of cooking liquid.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- Scant 1/3 cup bean cooking liquid, water or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 4 large fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces or chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place the beans in a medium nonstick skillet and set aside.
Prepare herb mixture. Combine olive oil and garlic in a small skillet and cook on low heat until garlic is soft, about 3 minutes.
Increase heat slightly and add rosemary and thyme. Cook until the herbs begin to sizzle- do not let garlic burn.
Add the bean cooking liquid (or other stock) and olives, increase heat and boil for two minutes. Remove from heat.
Scatter the parsley and basil over the beans in the other skillet. Pour the dressing over them and cook over medium-high heat until the liquid is almost all absorbed by the beans.
Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Italian Seafood Salad with String Beans
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3/4 pound shelled and deveined large shrimp
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 pound cleaned squid, bodies cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rings, tentacles halved lengthwise
- 1/2 pound bay scallops or quartered sea scallops
- 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- 1 1/2 pounds small clams scrubbed
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 pound mixed yellow wax and green beans, ends trimmed, beans cut into 2-inch lengths
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons shredded basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
- Cayenne pepper
- Lemon wedges, for serving
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the garlic and cook, stirring, until the shrimp turn a light pink, about 1 minute. Transfer the shrimp to a platter. Add the water to the skillet and cook over high heat, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour the pan juices into a bowl and wipe out the skillet.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet. Add the squid and scallops. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to the platter.
Pour the reserved pan juices from the bowl into the skillet and cook over high heat, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the mussels, clams and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of garlic and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over high heat until the shells open, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels and clams to a large bowl; discard any that do not open. When the shells are cool enough to handle, remove the meat and add it to the platter.
Pour any accumulated shellfish juices into the skillet and bring the liquid to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 1/4 cup. Pour the liquid into a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil and let cool. Stir in all of the seafood and let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the beans until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool under running water; pat dry. Add the beans, basil, tomatoes and parsley to the seafood salad. Season with salt and cayenne and serve with lemon wedges.
- 2 Tasty Salad Recipes plus Homemade Salad Dressings (heallovebe.com)
- ☀ HAPPY Spring Salad☀ (12wwltest.wordpress.com)
- Mixed Spring Green Salad with Pear Grilled Shallots and Fried Gorgonzola (kathskitchensync.wordpress.com)
- Sonoma Valley Olive Festival: Vegan Caprese Salad (powerfulbeets.com)
- Sicilian street salad (baconisaveg.wordpress.com)
- Spring Mache Salad (infromthefields.wordpress.com)
- Salads (exquissiteefood.wordpress.com)
- Quinoa Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette (sixtwists.wordpress.com)
- Chickpea Salad (cookingwithsapana.wordpress.com)
- Chick Pea Salad on Mediterranean Flat Bread (lacucinadicarluzza.wordpress.com)