What Makes a Salad

Dave’s a salad guy. He oftentimes goes back for a second full salad after we finish our meal. I call it a dessert salad, although there’s nothing fancy schmancy (like strawberries) on it. He comes from a family that eats one before every dinner, and the salads usually cover the entire dinner plate. They also shake ground black pepper atop their salads, which I thought was insane at first, but have since come to also use. It does make it less bland!

So, we eat a lot of salad in our household. We often purchase the organic pre-washed salad mix (I know, but they’re just the right amount to get us through the week without wastage) or the organic romaine heads, and add various fixins. (We live in CNY – “g”s get dropped a lot.) Since I’m trying to eat more seasonally, at this time of the year I don’t have a lot of extras around — so a little sliced onion’s all I need. Dave likes to load his up with stuff.

Oh, and every couple of weeks I roast some nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts) with some egg white and turbinado sugar, which makes an AWESOME topper to salads…or, apparently, a snack, since they often don’t make it to the top of the “main event.” And, I must admit that our croutons aren’t organic (I’ve tried some and they’re not even worth it for their crunch factor), but they’re as close to all-natural as possible. Once in awhile, I get ambitious and roast my own out of local Italian bread, and they are the best EVER, but during work weeks with theater responsibilities and stuff happening, fuhgettaboutit.

During the summer, our salads are frickin’ awesome. This time of year, not s’much, but when it’s nice out? Nice. Seriously, we regularly will eat just huge salads for dinner and feel completely satiated and happy. The fact that 85-100% of the stuff that’s IN those salads come from our own back yard is probably an additional reason that we love these salads so much. The lettuce, peppers, tomatoes (for Dave…), herbs, and stuff I’m probably forgetting taste completely different from your own garden. We’re also known to throw in some more gourmet things when it’s nice and warm out, like strawberries (which I’ll DEFINITELY be growing this year). Add a balsamic reduction and some walnuts and you’re done.

But, what really MAKES a salad? You’re probably expecting me to say that the ingredients need to be fresh, local (or homegrown), organic, blah blah blah. Not really. For ME, what makes a salad is the dressing…and, in my mind, the only dressing I’ll ever need is Thousand Island. It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s a tad it vinegary — and it’s versatile as a dressing, dip, sandwich spread, or even on tacos. (Don’t puke, seriously, I tried it this week — insanely good if you don’t have taco sauce around.)

So, I’d been eating Dave’s version of a “dressing” for about a year (id oil and any vinegar on hand — sure, it’s healthy, but sometimes just too simplified), shouting profanities in the aisles of Hannaford while I awaited for an organic or all-natural or FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD at least an HFCS-free version. I’m pretty sure Dave was embarrassed to go near the condiment aisle with me for awhile there. It just ticked me off. My blood boils now to think about it.

Instead of continually risking ejection from our favorite supermarket, I decided to get proactive. I found a few recipes online, purchased my organic pickle relish (which I’ll gladly use on any nitrate-free hotdog, any day!) and all-natural mayo, and got to work. Storing it in a mason jar in the fridge, I now have a dressing that’s not only way better for you than the ones in the store, but that TASTES 10x better. It’s cheaper, too, since I use all the other ingredients for other uses, anyway.

Here’s the recipe that I took and how I tweaked it a bit:

All-Natural Thousand Island Dressing

– 1/2 c. mayonnaise (there are name brands now that give you all-natural — I prefer the taste, but you can also try Vegenaise or whatever you’re into)
– 2 Tbs. ketchup (I use organic)
– 1 Tbs. white vinegar (or extra juice from the relish)
– 2 tsp. turbinado sugar or agave nectar (or white sugar, if you’re into that…not judging ;-D)
– 2 -4 tsp. sweet pickle relish, to taste (I’m such a pickle fiend that I’m considering growing cukes just for this purpose next year — but, for now, I bought organic)
– 1 tsp. finely minced onion (whatever you want — I’ve used red onion every time, but the original recipe called for white)
– 1/8 tsp. salt (eyeball it)
– dash black pepper

Stir it all together and store it. It’s better the longer it sits.

I know that there are a lot of people (such as my dear, sweet, better half) who despise the thought of this dressing, which is fine. But, I think I’ve always liked its subtle sweetness since childhood.

There are still others of you who are asking “Crap! How unhealthy is THAT?!” But, y’know what? I feel that we’re a part of the whole foods movement, so this is my gateway drug into the world of more natural living. There are a lot of pre-packaged or over-processed foods that we’re cutting off of our “we eat that” list. So, if I want more wholesome eating and living, I’d rather know how the food I’m eating was prepared and that I used the best ingredients I could to make it.

Maybe someday we’ll be eating 100% naturally (we’re getting there, but not to THAT extreme yet), with nothing but raw milk and local fruits and veggies in our systems, but for the time being, I think we’re doing just fine. 🙂 And I’ve got my dressing, so I’m happy.