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Getting dressed: Go beyond the bottled salad stuff

A salad without dressing is really just a pile of lettuce, which just doesn't have much flavor.

Dressing is an important component to any salad -- be it greens, pasta, fruit or whatever. The dressing is what ties all the different ingredients together and adds additional flavor.

In my refrigerator, there is always a bottle or two of purchased salad dressing (usually ranch, used more as a dip than a dressing), but more often than not, I make it from scratch. It's really not that difficult, and you don't need any special ingredients.

The key components are some sort of acid (lemon juice and vinegar are the most common), some sort of oil (vegetable, olive) and then flavorings such as herbs, spices and condiments.

What I really enjoy about putting together my own dressings is the experimentation. A favorite concoction began with the dregs left in the bottom of a container of ruby red grapefruit juice, mixed with olive oil, a bit of mustard and a couple dashes of hot sauce. Weird combo? Yes, but it was delicious.

For the acid component, I've successfully used just about any fruit juice that has languished in my fridge -- cranberry, tomato, orange -- as well as some leftover wine. For the oil, I generally stick with olive oil, as it adds depth of flavor to the mix, but any decent quality vegetable oil can be used as well.

For flavoring, look to your spice rack and the condiment compartments in your refrigerator. Always season with salt and pepper, then throw in any herb mixtures that you like. Finally, a bit of Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, mustard or hot sauce can add some additional zip.

Besides the dressing ingredients, there's one other thing needed to make a really good salad dressing -- a whisk. In order to get the ingredients to emulsify -- basically convince two ingredients that don't like to combine to get it together -- the ingredients need to be whisked briskly. A fork will do in a pinch, but a small whisk really is the best tool. Or combine the ingredients in a lidded jar and shake.

If I'm making salad dressing for just one night's supper, I mix it up in a small bowl. But if I'm making one of the recipes here, I put it in a squeeze bottle dispenser for use over several days.

If you've never made homemade salad dressings, give one of these recipes a try. Maybe you'll be inspired to mix up your own variations.

Creamy Italian Salad Dressing

½ cup mayonnaise or salad dressing

1/3 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese blend (or more to taste)

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

Combine all in a jar or plastic condiment dispenser bottle. Cover and shake thoroughly to combine.

Spicy French Salad Dressing

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon spicy mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco)

¼ cup ketchup

Combine all in a jar or plastic condiment dispenser bottle. Cover and shake thoroughly to combine.

Low-Fat Blue Cheese Dressing

1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

1 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ cup crumbled blue cheese

In a blender or food processor, combine cottage cheese, yogurt, onion and garlic; process until smooth. Stir in blue cheese.

Store, covered, in refrigerator.

Italian Salad Dressing

¼ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon finely chopped onion

½ teaspoon ground mustard

½ teaspoon celery seed

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

2 teaspoons sugar (or equivalent of artificial sweetener)

Combine all in a jar or plastic condiment dispenser bottle. Cover and shake thoroughly to combine.

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

(507) 376-7327