Sunday, April 9, 2017

Saladosity, Part 8: Some Condiments, You Just Want to Buy


[This is the eighth post in a long series.  You may wish to start at the beginning.  Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]


In our quest to make the perfect salads, there’s still more shopping to do.  When it comes to condiments, we’re going to make a lot of them ourselves: mayonnaise, pickle relish, and most of the actual salad dressings.  But that doesn’t mean we’re going to make everything from scratch.  Remember: our #1 goal is to make making salads easy.  So if I tell you that you have to start growing your own mustard seed or whatever, that’s not easy.  So we’re going to make things ourselves where it’s simple to do so, and/or where it’s easier than trying to find quality condiments in your local store.  Where that’s not feasible, though, we will not hesitate one whit to just buy the stuff.  We’re eating good, and we’re eating simple.  Buying a few premade items is not going to endanger that.

Salad Dressings

Yes, there are actually a (very) few salad dressings that I like to buy intead of make.  Specifically, two: a feta cheese dressing, and a Tuscan dressing.

Now, both of these come from my local Trader Joe’s,* and they are (not at all coincidentally) the only two dressings that I’ve found there that have neither 1) soybean oil, nor 2) any added sweeteners.  If you’re avoiding dairy due to strict paleo/Whole30-ness, then the feta cheese dressing is out.  The Tuscan, however, should be good for all the nutritional tribes.

Now, remember I said  last time that, if you buy bleu cheese crumbles, you don’t actually need bleu cheese dressing?  This was a little bit of a white lie: you don’t need a dressing which is bleu cheese specifically, but what you do still need is a dressing which is creamy, and not strongly flavored so it won’t compete with the natural piquancy of the bleu cheese.  TJ’s feta dressing is exactly that.  You could try other varieties—I think a ranch would be too much, plus you’re never going to find ranch dressing without added sugars, but there could well be other options at your disposal.  Mainly you just want no crappy soybean oil, and hopefully no sugar (in any of its myriad forms).  TJ’s feta dressing has olive oil and canola oil (not the best, but better than soybean, corn, or peanut), and no sweeteners at all.  It doesn’t taste strongly of feta either, despite the name, and it’s a perfect complement for a bleu cheese salad.

Tuscan dressing, on the other hand, is just a slight step up from Italian (meaning it’s not much more than oil and vinegar).  The oil in this case is sunflower (good) “and/or” canola (less good, but still not awful).  The vinegar is balsamic.  And the “step up” is tomatoes and “spices” that edge it more towards tasting a bit like Worcestershire sauce, or maybe steak sauce without the sweetness.  It’s very tart, in fact, so I advise you use it in small quantities, which means it has a built-in mechanism to keep you from overindulging.  And, if you’re in the calorie-counter tribe, it’s only 50 calories per tablespoon, so that works out well all ‘round.  When we make our Tuscan salad, I’ll show you how to balance out that tartness in a very pleasant way.

Mustard

You know, mustard is some kind of friggin’ miracle food.  It contains no sugar, no carbs, and no fat; brown mustard has 5 calories per teaspoon and yellow mustard has zero.  At least that what my mustard bottles tell me—and guess where I bought ’em?—and, if yours are telling you a different story, toss ’em out and go shoppping for better options.  On top of all that, it’s seriously yummy, and it helps things emulsify (crucial when we get around to making our own mayonnaise).  About the only thing even remotely objectionable is that some forms of brown mustard (dijon, poupon, etc) may contain white wine, which some nutritional tribes (e.g. Whole30) may prohibit.  But that’s easy enough to work around.

You will need yellow mustard for sure, and brown mustard probably.  My particular yellow mustard happens to be organic, but I’m not sure I can taste the difference there, honestly.  But I don’t think there even is a non-organic version, and it’s still cheap enough, so why not?  My choice of brown mustard happens not to have any wine, but honestly I wouldn’t care if it did—that’s one of the Whole30 precepts that I tossed out the window a long time ago.

Ketchup

Now, the first thing I learned about ketchup when I started this whole journey was that it’s impossible to make ketchup without adding something to sweeten it.  If you don’t add some form of sugar, you just end up with thinned out tomato sauce, which is definitively not ketchup.  If you happen to be really seriously into Whole30, you’re probably already aware that there’s a company out there that makes ketchup using dates, which, being fruit and technically not an added “sweetener,” makes it Whole30-safe.  I’ve never tried it, but then I’m not that seriously into Whole30, so your mileage may vary.  You can also try making your own ketchup, but trust me when I tell you that it is a) a huge pain in the ass, and b) never ends up tasting particularly like ketchup.  As far as I’m concerned, ketchup springs into existence at some magical spring, probably underneath Teresa Heinz Kerry’s house.  Just buy the stuff.  Buy only the stuff that’s made with “organic cold-pressed raw cane juice” or whatever if you must, but honestly: it won’t make that much difference.

We’re going to use ketchup to make a version of a Thousand Islands dressing, and that is literally it.  Other than that, I never touch the stuff.  But Thousand Islands is pretty crucial for many things, particularly chef’s salad.

Vinegar

Now, many people absolutely adore vinegar.  I am not one of them.  For many years, I was convinced that I hated all vinegar.  Red wine vinegar I really don’t like, and apple cider vinegar I detest.  Balsamic vinegar I tolerate, but I’m not a huge fan.  However, I recognize that some recipes really need vinegar, both for its acidic qualities and its sour tang.  And I eventually discovered that white wine vinegar is pretty decent ... I’m not about to start drinking it straight or anything, but it’ll be a crucial component for at least one of our dressings.

The white wine vinegar I buy is called “white balsamic,” which I find oxymoronic.  Also its cheap price leads me to distrust the “balsamic” part, which I believe got thrown in there just to make it sound fancy.  The ingredient list is nice and short, but it’s not organic.  Still very good though.

Honey

When it comes to honey, what you really should be doing is buying local.  Find a farm or something like that nearby that sells honey made by local bees from local flowers.  Many people believe that eating local honey helps boost your immune system, but, even if you don’t buy that, it’s still a valid point that you should be helping to keep your local apiaries solvent, who in turn keep colonies of bees thriving, and I don’t think there’s very many people who actually think the recent decreases in bee populations are a good thing.

We have a local place that both bottles their own honey and also gets some varities imported, so they have a great selection.  You can even go there and do a honey-tasting.  Different kinds of honey absolutely taste different, so experiment to find out what works for you.

For our purposes, we’re going to use it to make our own honey mustard dressing.  For the most part, the crap that you have been buying—probably to give to your kids for their chicken nuggets—is not very good.  If you’ve found anything that tastes good (like, say, Ken’s), then it’s full of crap (like, say, soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup, which are the first two ingredients on that delicious bottle of Ken’s).  Contrariwise, if you found anything whose ingredient list delighted you, you almost certainly were insanely disappointed by the underwhelming taste (like, say, the Sprouts store brand).  Well, as it turns out, making your own honey mustard is not so hard, plus you get to tweak it: perhaps you like yours sweeter, or tangier, or creamier, or whatever.

So start by buying yourself some nice honey.  I prefer a sweeter variety for this purpose: perhaps an orange blossom, or a nice clover.  But get whatever you personally like.



Next time, we’ll finish  up the refrigerated portion of our shopping.



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* You may recall that I’m pretty much a walking TJ’s commercial.









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