Another All-Dressing Issue
Mostly. (We included a roasted-winter-squash salad to eat it on.)
SALAD DRESSING IS ONE OF THOSE TOPICS that people are fickle about without even knowing it. One minute they’ll say: Oh, the dressing! It is absolutely everything. The next they’ll say: Everyone knows that what’s IN the salad is all that matters. And according to others it’s how you dress a salad that can tip the whole enterprise from acceptable or even pretty good to one that makes people practically genuflect: Oh, holy tossed green salad, I worship thee.
No one is ever exactly right because like most things on this upside-down planet we call home, it’s mutable.
And yet most of us pick a couple and stick with them, often for good reason. Having your salad destroyed by a terrible dressing can scare you back to your tired standby.
I go back and forth on all these dressing stances, depending on how bossy I’m feeling, but I will say this: 1. If your dressing is missing something it’s usually onion. And 2. A good salad dressing is like money in the damn bank.
As some of you who’ve been with us since the beginning know, back during the summer of 2020, before I made the bizarre decision to dedicate my remaining years on this planet to salad, I felt pretty sure I could live until the very end, whenever it came, eating nothing but the big bowls of greens buried in ripe tomatoes, berries, peaches, onion and other summer fruits and vegetables, with nothing but a generous amount of lemon juice, a little olive oil, and flaky salt. This was my daily habit, and it felt permanent.
But then, for obvious reasons (this newsletter), I had to branch out. Which has had its own joyous rewards.
Then the seasons began to change, which naturally leads to heavier food. And my thoughts were heavier, too. (Is this it? Is the world ending?) So of course I became nostalgic for the past (We were so merry!) and for all the dressings a person craves and then rejects and then craves again in a single lifetime.
Which is to say, I investigated creamier dressings—Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island, the dressings I grew up on—in the first All Dressing Issue. It also included my Aunt Mariah’s raspberry vinaigrette and Japanese Restaurant style carrot ginger dressing. And we’ve investigated many other dressings and vinaigrettes, through the salads of our terrific visitors in the Salad Lab. Thank God for them. Of our own volition, a couple of my favorites include a swinging 1970s watercress dressing from a Vail, Colorado, Cookbook, and, most recently, the glorious mayonnaise-free North African Lemon Dressing from Craig Claiborne’s 1961 cookbook.
But I’m back to creamy with this issue, and it’s never been more obvious to me that in America, creamy dressing means mayonnaise, thanks to the fact, as we’ve lamented in our attack on bottled “French” dressing, that we took the condiment from a home-made wonder to a manufactured symbol of omnipresent unctuous blandness.
Which it simply isn’t. If you don’t believe me, make your own, which is a breeze, or make some aioli. (I’ll include my grandmother’s perfect blender mayonnaise below, just in case you want to give it a whirl. Haha.)
Judging from my own collection of vintage American cookbooks you’d think we never ate salads at all (other than in the form of gelatin atrocities), and if we did they had mayo dressings. But my favorite vintage Italian cookbook (Luigi Carnacina’s “Great Italian Cooking: La Grande Cucina Internazionale”) has 62 salads (including one called the “Maria Theresa” and another called the “Salad in Half-Mourning”) and no section on dressings at all. The recipes simply refer the reader to the same recipe for “sauce vinaigrette,” to be served straight up or converted into another dressing with embellishments. Very occasionally mayonnaise is used to make a creamy dressing, but usually it’s actual cream.
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Remember cream? From whence cometh the term creamy? It’s so wonderful in dressings because they come out lighter and less oily, more refreshing. And while I know you all know—because I say it so often—that this is not a diet newsletter, you may like to know that one cup of mayo has 1496 calories while a cup of heavy cream has 400. I’ve been a food writer for a long time, and that surprised me.
Anyway, I’m not here today to vanquish mayonnaise, which we happen to love here in the lab and which I just had on a turkey sandwich. I’m here to lift up mine eyes and yours to other forms of creaminess, as in these three dressings below.
One uses a bit of mayonnaise along with cream, another uses straight up cream, and the third, which I’ve accompanied with a fall salad of sorts, uses walnuts to achieve its velvety aspect.
*RECIPE: Russian Dressing, adapted (with less mayo and more cream, among other modern updates) from 282 Ways of Making a Salad, by Bebe Daniels and Jill Allgood, 1950)
1 tablespoon capers (chop them up a bit to spread the glory)
2 teaspoons finely minced onion
2/3 cup diced pickled beets
1 tablespoon chopped green olives (I used the crappy kind here)
two anchovy filets, mashed into a paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon horseradish
1 tablespoon lemon juice, more to taste
2/3 cup plain whipped cream
In the order listed, add all ingredients—except for the whipped cream—to a bowl and whisk together. Taste for salt and lemon. Refrigerate until ready to serve, at which point you may add the whipped cream. Don’t leave it out. I’ll know.
*Recipe: True Creamy Lemon Dressing with Chives, adapted from Patricia Wells
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely minced chives
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (use a microplane; you should have one for grating citrus zest, garlic, and hard cheeses)
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine lemon, salt, and honey and shake until the salt and honey are dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and shake well to fully emulsify. Taste for salt, extra lemon. Refrigerate until ready to use.
*RECIPE: The DOS Laboratory’s Roasted Winter Squash Platter with Parsley Salad with Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette
Serves 2 or 3
One nice thing about delicata and sweet dumpling winter squash, aside from their cozy deliciousness, is that their peel is entirely edible. For delicata, split lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with a spoon, and cut crosswise into slices about 1/3 of an inch. If you’re using sweet dumpling, you want the slices to match the thickness of your delicata. Split the sweet dumpling in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, then turn the squash over on your cutting board, cut side down, and carefully slice into 1/3-inch or so lengthwise pieces. (I cut up both squash and sliced and roasted just enough for 2 people; I’ll use the uncut squash—aka uncut gems—later, for another salad.
For the Squash Platter
2 medium delicata squash, 1 sweet dumpling squash, or a combination
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of cayenne
flaky sea salt
fresh lime or lemon juice
1 very large bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, stems removed
1 tablespoon walnut oil
3/4 cup roughly chopped toasted walnuts
For the dressing
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C)
In a large bowl, toss the sliced squash with the olive oil, cayenne, salt, and lemon or lime juice. (I prefer lime, but I had an unfortunate lime incident so used lemon). Spread the squash out evenly on a parchment- or foil-lined cookie sheet and roast until the vegetables begins to darken and caramelize and are completely fork tender, about 30 minutes. You should turn the slices over about halfway through. Set aside, preferably where they can stay warm.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a bullet blender, combine olive oil, walnut oil, vinegar, lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of the toasted chopped walnuts, maple syrup, mustard, salt, and red onion. Puree until smooth; you may thin it a bit with up to a tablespoon of warm water.
When ready to serve, make a parsley salad by gently tossing the parsley with a tablespoon of walnut oil and a bit of flaky sea salt. Spread some of the dressing in a substantial layer on a plate or platter and arrange the squash attractively upon it, as if on a creamy walnut throne. Pile the parsley salad on top (you want a lot of parsley salad; I used less in the photo so you could see the pretty squash, but it should be a 50-50 ratio). Sprinkle with toasted walnuts and a bit of flaky sea salt then drizzle with more dressing if desired. Or you may serve the extra dressing at the table.
*RECIPE: Beatrice’s Blender Mayo, from The Comfort Food Diaries
This is a recipe I asked my grandmother Beatrice to write down for me many years ago, when she was still alive—and I’ve written about it a million times. Memories attached to it, still on the crummy piece of paper she wrote it on, in pencil, brings her rushing back to me blahbedy blah blah.
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup of corn or canola oil
Break egg in blender and add salt, mustard, vinegar, and 1/4 cup of oil. Cover and turn blender on low speed. Immediately uncover, with blender on, and pour remaining oil in slow steady stream. Turn off motor and stir. Turn on blender again, briefly.
Be sure blender is dry when you start. Make sure the eggs are super-fresh. You can add garlic to make aioli, or soft herbs. Don’t keep it longer than a few days in the fridge.
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