[This is the tenth post in a long series. You may wish to start at the beginning. Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—
Finally we come to the last bit of shopping that we’ll need for our salads. Today we’re going to close out our long trip1 to the grocery store by looking at the dry goods aisle.
Spices and SeasoningsThis list is surprisingly short. I don’t have anything against dried spices per se; I just tend to use them more in cooking than in salad-making.
Salt. Obviously you need salt. It’s difficult to make much of anything—
In terms of kind, for my money it’s tough to beat straight up sea salt. Whether you like it coarse ground or finely ground is just a matter of preference, but I would stay away from the crappy iodized stuff, and contrariwise I wouldn’t bother with the super-fancy stuff, like pink Himalayan salt or what-have-you. Good old sea salt is natural, tastes good, doesn’t require a large amount to make itself heard, and it’s fairly inexpensive to boot.
When it comes to amounts, I’m a firm believer in the “pinch.” You can have a “little pinch,” which I would define as still being able to feel the pad of your thumb with your index finger, or you can have a “big pinch,” which to me means it’s nothing but salt between your fingertips. If you really seriously must measure, you can always work with a big pinch equal to about 1/16 of a teaspoon, and a little pinch perhaps half that, but, really: don’t bother. Learn to pinch. It’s a valuable skill that never ceases to be useful.
Pepper. By which we mean black pepper. Now, when I was growing up, I hated pepper. What I came to learn is, I don’t actualy hate pepper ... I just hate that crappy black pepper dust that you buy for your shakers. My dad absolutely adores that stuff. Whereas I can’t stand it.
Now, freshly ground peppercorns are a whole different beast. That, as it turns out, I love. Buy whole black peppercorns (organic if you like, but I don’t think it makes as much difference for peppercorns) and get yourself a good grinder. (We’ll talk more about that when we get to equipment.) And, just like I don’t actually measure salt, I don’t measure pepper either. For me, pepper is delivered in only one unit: grinds.
Of course, the truth is, how much pepper you get out of “a grind” of your pepper mill depends on several factors, most especially the size of your grinder and how much rotational freedom your wrist has. But, here’s the thing: how much pepper you want depends on your personal relationship with pepper. So I don’t get fussed about exact measurements for pepper, because they likely wouldn’t work for you anyway. Just start with however many grinds I suggest the first time you make it, then adjust for taste thereafter. I do love pepper, but I don’t put way more pepper than you can stand in anything. Except eggs.2
Garlic Powder. The most important thing to note here is that garlic powder is not interchangeable with garlic salt. Remember: we want to control how much salt we’re adding to things. Trying to substitute garlic salt when I tell you to use garlic powder is just going to end up making everything too salty. And too much salt is not particularly good for you—
You can buy organic garlic powder if you like, but, as with the peppercorns, I doubt you’ll notice much difference (if any). Could you substitute fresh garlic instead? Well, I suppose you could. Should you? I personally don’t think so. There are several spices where fresh is the same as dried, only nicer: oregano, for instance, or cilantro, or parsley, or basil. Garlic is not one of them. Garlic powder is just not the same as fresh garlic; they’re two entirely different beasts. But, hey: you do you.
Optional: In the you-don’t-need-it-but-you-might-want-it category, it won’t hurt to pick out a nice taco seasoning. It’s hard as hell to find one without any undesireable ingredients in it: most of them have corn starch, which is silly, and almost all of them have sugar, which is just annoying and unnecessary. Even the Trader Joe’s store brand3 fails me here—
So get whatever you can find. It’ll be nice to have if you want actual meat when we come to the Mexican salad.
OilsThere is huge debate over which oils are good and which are bad. Some like canola; some spit on the ground in disgust at the mere mention of it. Some favor flaxseed; some say it’s vastly overrated and tastes terrible to boot. Some rave about coconut; others claim it has more detrimental effects than beneficial ones. I’m not here to settle these debates for you. I’m just going to give you a few options that I myself use, and then you pick what you like.
Remember: for this application, we’re not going to be cooking anything with these. That means it’s okay to get delicate, flavorful oils, even those that have a low smokepoint. (In fact, delicate and flavorful is desireable; low smokepoint is just irrelevant.) Look for cold-pressed oils wherever possible; most experts agree that extraction methods that involve heat tend to destroy at least some of the valuable nutritional bits.4
Avocado Oil. Avocado oil is my new favorite oil of all time. It has a great, fruity taste which is ever so vaguely reminiscent of avocados, without being strongly redolent of them, and it turns everything a delightful, delicate shade of green. It is a bit pricey, and you can overdo it; for both those reasons, I often use half avocado and half something else, or perhaps two-thirds avocado and one-third something else, if I’m feeling saucy. But you owe it to yourself to try some, at least once. It’s really worthwhile.
Grapeseed Oil. This is a weird one. Grapeseed oil has a piquant taste that can easily overpower things if you’re not careful. I originally bought it to experiment with it as a mayonnaise base, but that was a big flop. Then, just to get rid of it, I started using it for my cilantro dressing, and it actually shone there, so I’ve continued using it for that. In fact, that’s now the only thing I use it for. If you don’t want to have an extra bottle of oil lying around, you can skip this one and substitute any of the other oils in the cilantro dressing, but I like the grapeseed there. Just not anywhere else.
Sunflower Oil. Sunflower oil is a great neutral oil: it doesn’t have a strong taste, and it has a decent smokepoint, so you can actually cook with it as well. For our purposes, we’re mainly going to be using it to cut the avocado oil, lest that get overpowering. But it’s a handy, versatile oil that you can use for lots of things, so it’s handy backup.
Fair warning: some people put sunflower in the category of “bad” oils. My personal opinion is, it’s leagues better than corn or soy, and I personally think, from my limited research, that it beats out canola as well. But you make your own choices.
Optional: It’s hard to go wrong with a good olive oil. Personally, I like olive oil for cooking certain things—
Things in JarsProbably the vinegar should have gone here, but I stuck it under condiments. Ah well. That leaves only one thing ...
Dill pickles. Now you may recall that I’m not a huge fan of vinegar, which means I don’t like pickles. Which ought to mean that I don’t like pickle relish ... except I do. I cannot explain this. But I like pickle relish on hot dogs, I like pickle relish in deviled eggs—
But, here’s the thing: sweet pickle relish is not really healthy. It’s usually sweetened with terrible things, and you really don’t need the sweet. Honest. I would not lie to you. But you can’t buy non-sweet pickle relish ... unless you go to Whole Foods and spend a buttload of money. And we’re not going to do that. We’re just going to make pickle relish.
Which, as it turns out, is stupidly simple. And here’s the thing about a jar full of dill pickles: it has 0 calories, and 0 fat, and 0 carbs. Which means the pickle relish will have 0 all-that-stuff too. Good luck getting that with your sweet relish.
And, with that, the shopping is over! Next we can move on to equipment.
1 Considering that our first grocery store post in this series was over 2 years ago, it’s a hell of a long trip indeed.
2 Remember that last caveat when we come to our egg salad.
3 You haven’t forgotten that I do the vast majority of my shopping at TJ’s, now, have you?
4 But not all experts, of course. You’re never going to get all experts to agree on anything.
5 Also, if you’re going to cook with it, don’t forget that olive oil has a terrible smokepoint—
6 Note that, from a Whole30 perspective, Thousand Islands is completely cheating, unless you’ve found some Whole30-approved ketchup. See the condiments post for more ideas on that.