If a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down, a lot of dressing has been equally effective in helping us swallow lettuce and bland salad garnishes ranging from carrots to alfalfa sprouts.
Even the presence of enticing or exotic greenery on the plate won’t foster a slimmer you if it is slathered with blue cheese dressing (at 77 calories and 8 grams of fat per tablespoon) or a classic dressing of four parts oil to one part vinegar (at 91 calories and 10 grams of fat per tablespoon). These figures do not include the sugar (15 calories per teaspoon) that finds its way into virtually all mainstream salad dressings.
For years, the alternatives were various low-calorie dressings, loaded with additives, stabilizers and sugar substitutes, or the cold-turkey expedient of squirting a little lemon juice and no oil at all on your salad.
But today, manufacturers, chefs and cooking teachers have begun to formulate alternatives to traditional mayonnaise, oil or cream-based dressings that actually taste good.
Among the revisionist approaches to making a vinaigrette:
Substitute low-fat, reduced-salt chicken broth for as much as half the oil in a standard recipe. For salads containing fruit or meats such as turkey and pork, boil orange juice or apple juice to concentrate the flavor, then mix with an equal amount of oil.
Skip the oil altogether and use a small amount of flavorful, sweet-sour balsamic vinegar, nutty sherry vinegar or a fruit vinegar.
To provide texture and richness, stir chicken broth and lemon juice or vinegar into pureed roasted garlic, pureed caramelized onions or a puree of a full-flavored fruit such as raspberries.
For even more texture, prepare dressings with a base of pureed legumes and pulses such as lima beans, fava beans and lentils. Depending on their density, these can be used as sandwich spreads as well.
Create a creamy texture with buttermilk or nonfat yogurt.
Add texture and flavor by toasting spices such as mustard seed and cumin seed and adding them to the dressing.
You’ll find top-quality, extra-virgin olive oil richer and more satisfying, which means you can use less - though probably not enough less to offset the extra cost over pure olive oil.
Here are a few dressings for thin-thinking diners:
Low-Fat Yogurt Vinaigrette
Adapted from “The Vegetarian Feast” by Martha Rose Shulman.
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, sherry vinegar or cider vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced, optional
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as tarragon, parsley, basil, chives, dill, chervil
Put lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt, pepper and yogurt into a jar or small bowl. Stir together well.
Stir in olive oil and herbs. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Yield: 3/4 cup.
Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 40 calories, 2 grams fat (45 percent fat calories), no cholesterol, 125 milligrams sodium, 3 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams protein.
Lillian Smith’s Five-Vinegar Dill Dressing
Adapted from “Healthy Indulgences” by Lynn Fischer.
2 tablespoons EACH cider, white, red wine and balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fruit vinegar, such as raspberry or blueberry
4 sprigs fresh dill
2 sprigs fresh parsley
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine vinegars in a measuring cup. Finely mince the dill and parsley in a food processor; add mustard, honey and vinegars.
With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and continue to process for 1 minute. Serve chilled or at room temperature, stirring or shaking before using. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Yield: 3/4 cup.
Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 35 calories, 2 grams fat (50 percent fat calories), no cholesterol, 65 milligrams sodium, 4 grams carbohydrate, no protein.
Spicy Tomato-Yogurt Dressing
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded
1/2 teaspoon EACH sugar, black pepper, salt
1/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
Hot pepper sauce to taste
Puree tomatoes in a blender or food processor. Add yogurt, sugar, pepper and salt; process until wellblended. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Just before serving, stir in cilantro and hot pepper sauce. Serve over sliced cucumbers, coleslaw, green salads or pasta.
Yield: 1-1/2 cups.
Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 10 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, 95 milligrams sodium, 2 grams carbohydrate, 0.5 grams protein.
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