This might seem a little silly, but today I’m writing about the benefits of making your own salad dressing. There are a number of them, ranging from the obvious to the subtle, and at the end you get a recipe.
So, on to salad dressing…
I first learned how to make salad dressing several years ago when I landed a job as a cook in a little place where they served their own blends. Up until then, I had never even considered the fact that one could actually make salad dressing. To me it had always been something squeezed from a bottle adorned with Paul Newman’s face.
Like many Americans, I grew up thinking that there were certain foods that were not made but instead purchased in a more-or-less finished state requiring little to no effort. The idea that mac-and-cheese could come out of anything other than a box was absurd. And stir-fry was something that you bought frozen in a bag. Ditto on french fries.
When I was first told that I’d be learning how to make salad dressing, I remember thinking initially that it would probably be a complex process. As it turned out, nothing could be farther from the truth. The first batch of dressing I made was some kind of vinaigrette. Something like six ingredients went into it, and it took me less than five minutes.
I have been making my own dressings ever since, and over the course of the years, I have realized that it provides a number of benefits.
#1: It tastes better.
Simply put, homemade dressing tastes better than that out of a bottle. It tastes real, like food is supposed to, with separate flavors that blend into a harmonious whole. The store-bought kind tastes like some sort of hyper-sweetened ketchup you pour over your salad, and I would in fact venture to guess that bottled dressing has more in common with ketchup than it does with its homemade relative.
You can also adjust the flavor of homemade dressing to suit your tastes. Want it more or less vinegary? More or less lemon? Raspberry or blueberry flavor?
#2: It’s healthier.
This one is pretty straightforward. Bottled dressings have all sorts of crap in them. All of those preservatives, additives, and fatteners that are working so hard to keep Americans poisoned and obese. Ranch dressing, I’m looking at you…
When you make any food—not just salad dressing—out of real, whole ingredients, you are vastly improving your diet. Processed foods have been linked to obesity, hormonal and gastrointestinal issues, skin and hair problems, and a whole slew of other nasty things.
#3: It helps you be more present and aware.
Now we come to a more subtle but very important benefit.
All of the shortcuts that humans have developed have taken us out of the moment. Instead of taking the time to wash a sink of dishes, we throw them into a machine so that we can scurry off to our next task (which will probably involve another shortcut). We’re so busy trying to simplify things and charge ever-onward that we never slow down enough to truly be present in the moment.
We do the same thing when it comes to food. Take it out of a box, throw it in the microwave, eat, move on. Squeeze from the bottle, apply to lettuce, eat, move on. When you take the time to actually make your food—even the smaller aspects of a meal like the sauces and dressings—you are allowing yourself to be in the moment and to be more aware of yourself and your relationship to your food.
If someone were to ask you what you are doing when you’ve just put a burrito into the microwave, you might answer: “I’m waiting for my burrito to be ready.” You’re not doing anything, just waiting for the timer to go off. And then when you finally are eating, are you really aware of what’s in that burrito, or where the ingredients came from, or how it was produced?
When asked what you’re doing when you’re actually cooking real food, you can say: “I am cooking.” You are actually engaged in a life-sustaining activity. You are cooking. And in each part of the cooking process, you are engaged in another specific activity. I am making salad dressing. I am chopping vegetables. I am aware of what is in my food, and I am taking this moment to make the food that will nourish me.
All of our shortcuts—from the automobile eliminating our need to traverse a terrain and truly learn it, to processed food taking away our need to cook—have reduced our awareness of our place in the universe and our ability to live in the moment. And we’ve become less capable.
Which brings us directly to my next point…
#4: It makes you more capable.
I wonder how many times someone has looked in the fridge and complained that they’re out of salad dressing, when they have all of the ingredients they need to make it?
This sort of ignorance and lack of capability is what causes us to live as helpless victims, unable to do anything for ourselves. The car needs to be fixed, the plumbing need attention, or a cake needs to be baked for a celebration—if you don’t know how to do it yourself, you’re helpless until someone who knows what they’re doing saves the day.
Every time you learn a new skill—even something as seemingly trivial as how to make salad dressing—you become more capable and better equipped to move through life. And with each new thing you become capable of doing you will find that you are more compelled to learn another skill, then another. There’s a name for a person who possesses a broad-range of capabilities: a Renaissance man/woman.
When it comes right down to it, is there anything more attractive than someone who is highly capable? Especially when it comes to things like cooking?
How to Make Salad Dressing
Making salad dressing is easy—it’s all about taking one or two base ingredients, adding a few extras, and stirring it together. I don’t even recommend measuring out ingredients—just go for it and see what happens, and make adjustments as you go.
Here’s how to make a pretty basic but tasty balsamic vinaigrette, for example:
Step 1: Pour roughly equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar into a bowl.
Step 2: Add a dab of honey and dijon mustard, and a squeeze of lemon. Stir with a fork.
Step 3 (optional): Add pepper, minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme.
That’s all there is to it. It takes only a couple of minutes, and you can make as small or large a batch as you need.
They’re all pretty much just that simple. Sometimes you need special ingredients, like anchovy paste for caesar dressing, for example, but for the most part you probably already have all of the ingredients you need to make a good dressing right now.
So if you want to be healthier, more capable, more aware, and to eat tastier food, ditch the bottled dressing. In fact, try cutting out processed foods in general as much as possible—you’ll eat, look, and feel better.