On the Menu: The Well-Dressed Salad

salad with fresh veggiesI eat salads all year long and enjoy them, but spring and summer salads are simply THE BEST. Tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, sweet peppers–my heart goes pitter-patter just anticipating the fresh and crunchy months ahead.

Recently, a friend and I were discussing our mutual love of the big salad. Or, as we so daintily refer to it: the big-ass salad. (I never said I had class.) The bigger the salad, the better, but within caloric boundaries for yours truly, of course.

Where my friend and I discovered a difference in big-ass salad love was when it came to salad dressings. She likes rich and creamy dressing and a lot of it. I like rich and creamy dressings sometimes, too, but not the calories that go with them, so I had to come up with alternatives if I wanted to a) enjoy my salad, and b) maintain my slim (hah!) figure. My friend is currently working on attaining a slim(mer) figure and asked for some lower-calorie options. I thought it might be fun, and possibly helpful, to share them with you. At no additional charge, naturally.

For many years, I tried this and that low-calorie/low-fat/low-taste brand of salad dressing and didn’t really like any of them. Most of the time, I’d end up throwing it out (you know how I hate to do that!) after it had expired. Usually LONG after it had expired, but that’s a story for another day.

About this time of year, seven years ago, I “discovered” the Dip Method, which I was certain I had invented only to find out Weight Watchers had been recommending it for a while. Oh well. If you order or serve your dressing on the side, then dip just the tips of your fork tines in the dressing before spearing some veggies, you’ll be surprised at how little dressing you’ll consume. Plus you’ll get just the right amount of dressing with each bite. Or, as sometimes happens when the salad is especially tasty, you’ll stop dipping all together and just enjoy the salad as is.

These days, I only dip when I’m dining out. At home, I have better options from which to choose. :)

My Three Favorite Salad Dressings

A couple of years ago, maybe even last year, I found two lower-calorie dressings that I love! And no, “love” is not too strong a word. I’d be seriously distraught if these dressings were to die and would probably go through the 7 stages of grief over the loss. And then I’d figure out a way to make them myself. :)

top 3 dressings

Can you guess which dressings are commercial dressings and which one is homemade? :)

Yes, that’s a repurposed grape jelly container holding my homemade version of Pancho’s Tropicale Dressing. More on that in a minute.

My go-to favorite commercial salad dressings of ANY dressings–full-calorie or low-calorie–are the Marzetti’s Pomegranate and Bolthouse Farms Caesar Parmigiano. The pomegranate is light and slightly tart and the parmigiano is rich with cheese-y goodness, so I alternate them depending on the rest of the menu and also what’s in the salad o’the day. Both are gluten free and the ingredients list doesn’t look fatal.

Back to the homemade dressing. Pancho’s is a long-time local Mexican restaurant that serves this sweet and spicy mustard vinaigrette on its tacos and salads. They also sell it in local grocery stores, but I wanted to play around with a home version for some fun and tastiness. A few weeks ago, I had my chance when I made up a bunch of turkey breast taco meat.

tacosaladIn my home version, I tried to use a sugar/stevia blend in place of the regular sugar, and I used less of it. A lot less, at first, but it needed a little more sweetness so added a little more. I was just going by taste, so I don’t know how much I added back. Oops. My father makes a variation with about 1/3 cup of prepared mustard and a 1/2 cup of oil. He also uses Splenda instead of sugar.

I use the Pancho’s dressing along with a drizzle of Ortega Taco Sauce for some added spiciness. It’s a little more caloric, but the flavor is worth it. The last time I measured, I think it was about 1-1/2 tablespoons total for both dressings, so 75-80 calories.

I also play around with making other dressings now and then, usually vinaigrettes, but these are the ones you’ll almost always find in my fridge.

Feel free to share any of your favorite salad dressings. Or are you one of those folks who eats naked salad, or no dressing at all?

7 thoughts on “On the Menu: The Well-Dressed Salad

  1. Every time you say that the dipping method really works, I swear I’m going to try it. I don’t believe it when other people say it, but I DO believe you : )

    My favorite dressings are my own 4 ing. dressing–1 tsp each of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and honey. And I do like Paul Newman’s low cal sesame dressing and one other I like is Brianna’s Lemon Tarragon (very low cal.) I pretty much have dressings year round now, but like them better in warmer weather. The part I like best is NO COOKING!

  2. I actually always preferred veggies in a salad over the lettuce so.. I don’t eat salads much PLUS I am too lazy to cut it all up… :) In my olden days – it was all about the dressing! 😉

  3. I’m not much of a lettuce salad person either. However, I need to figure out how to eat post-winter. (I felt like I had a fairly good handle on cold season foods.) Suffering some anxiety on this change. I’m thinking slaw might be good – I like broc slaw and cabbage and they keep longer for me. So I’ll definitely check out the dressing suggestions. I may just do chopped vegs with some dressing too.

  4. I too am a just about every day year ’round salad for lunch eater. Big Ass Salad, that is. I love the Newman’s Own “Light” dressings. They are all natural and just taste good. Mostly I eat the Light Balsamic Vinaigrette, Light Honey Mustard, and Light Caesar.

    I also use the dipping method if I want a traditional creamy dressing like Russian or Blue Cheese.

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