Dressing Up

Saturday, August 7, 2010


My family had a special glass bottle designated for making salad dressing. Dried, dehydrated, packet salad dressing, to be more specific. Three raised lines divided the bottom half, indicating the amount oil, vinegar and water that was needed for one packet. The simple design made it easy for my young self to make salad dressing without guidance or supervision. The top part had a textured, diamond-like pattern, leading to an impressive design when the little droplets of oil and water cascaded down the sides after a fierce shaking.

The whole thing felt like a magic trick: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and poof, an entirely new combination of Zesty Italian or Cheese Garlic. When the solution settled, however, the oil would rise to the top. The trick’s thin veil revealed.

For me, the salad–our classic combination of iceberg lettuce, carrots, and cucumbers–was just an excuse to make and eat the dressing.

They say oil and water don’t mix, and, much later in high school chemistry I learned for good reason. Water molecules are charged, so the positive end of one molecule is attracted to the negative end of another water molecule. Oil, a non-polar substance, cannot compete, and honestly, would rather stick with its own kind. Without an emulsifier forcing oil and water (including water-based solutions like vinegar) together, the result is a temporary, albeit delicious, relationship.

At some point, my family stopped making packet salad dressing, first switching to bottled and then to homemade. Tommy Tang (via his public television series) introduced me to a pungent, Thai-style dressing flavored with fresh garlic and ginger and soy sauce. There was no water, no vinegar, and no glass jar, but it still felt like magic.


Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette

Inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed to 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 1/2 cups chickpeas (about a 15 oz can)
1 cup fresh herbs, chopped (mint, parsley, oregano)
2 tbsp olive oil

For the vinaigrette
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Put sweet potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with oil and and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown and just tender, about 40 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, make vinaigrette. Add lemon juice, vinegar, pomegranate molasses and spices to a medium jar. Whisk in oil until combined.

In a large bowl, add chickpeas, herbs, and bell pepper, and potatoes. Add dressing and gently mix.

Serves 4-6

Category: salads, sides, vegan

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