So you're eating lots more salads (and salad dressing) lately? Good for you. These days, most of us are trying to eat healthier, and a truly luscious salad—one that's packed with treats like avocado, nuts, and cheese—can be a great way to feel better without resorting to the dreaded diet.
But what if there was a way to make your salad even better for you? We didn't think it was possible, until we checked out food writer Amy Chaplin's latest cookbook, Whole Food Cooking Every Day. Sure, it's packed with hundreds of vegetarian recipes that are also dairy-free, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free, but there's no need to stick to that regimen to appreciate the uncomplicated, accessible recipes, tips, and tricks she offers.
Case in point: How to supercharge your aforementioned salad. The key, Chaplin says, is in the dressing. Unlike basic vinaigrettes and creamy favorites like ranch and caesar, the dressings in Whole Food Cooking Every Day are packed with protein and use vegetables as their base (yay for getting the most out of your food!).
To make them, Chaplin blends vegetables like zucchini, beets, and carrots, with herbs and citrus until they become smooth and velvety. Her Golden Citrus Zucchini Dressing combines zucchini in a blender with turmeric, orange juice, cashew butter, nutritional yeast, and a little bit of garlic. The outcome is a rich, vibrant plant-based sauce that you can throw on top of any dish you can think of. “It’s a way to give a dressing body,” said Chaplin. “As creamy as they are—they’re a lot lighter than other dressings.”
The idea came from a client who asked her to use zucchini and fennel in dressings as a way to cut back on oil. Chaplin took this idea and ran with it. “I’m pro-oil, but this was something specific for one of my clients,” she said. “As I began experimenting with it, I realized I could take it so many different ways.”
Because in-season vegetables are so juicy and flavorful, blending them into dressings makes for a naturally delectable mixture. The zucchini brings a delicate, almost melon-y taste, while adding carrots brings a more earthy, sweet flavor. “When you’ve got lime, sea salt, and olive oil—that’s already a good combination. Adding something like blended zucchini just gives it more body,” Chaplin said.
Chaplin’s raw dressings not only give a fresh new flavor, they also lend a distinct new look. While standard creamy dressings tend to have a washed-out or pastel-like color, using vegetables give these a deeper, richer color. In a way, they resemble jars of bright-colored paint. “That's the look we were going for," Chaplin said. "I love them for their texture and color. They’re an easy way to make something impressive.”
One of the most intriguing qualities about these vegetable-based dressings is their versatility. They’re essentially multipurpose sauces and can be used as vegan mayonnaise, as a dip for crudités, or even as a topping for noodles and tacos. And when it comes to making them, anything can be mixed and matched. Don’t have fresh basil? Use mint or cilantro. Want an even creamier sauce? Throw in some nuts.
Chaplin encourages home cooks to experiment with what they have on-hand. “It’s easy to improvise, as long as you follow the measurements and the base,” she said. For these dressings, a high-speed blender is ideal to ensure the outcome is as smooth as possible. Pro tip: using fresh ingredients is essential—olive oil that’s past its prime mixed with not-so-fresh beets will ruin your dressing. “Because everything is raw, you can really taste every ingredient,” Chaplin says. “Use good olive oil that isn’t bitter or too powerful.”
Most of Chaplin’s dressings are flavored with fresh lime juice, but you can use any citrus juice or raw cider vinegar instead—just use a little less of it and taste as you go, since the flavor will be more pronounced. And if you’re feeling a little fancy, garnish your finished dish by adding a sprinkle of the herbs or seeds used in the dressing. Store any extra dressing in an airtight container in the fridge, and you can use them for up to three days.
The concept of using blended vegetables in salad dressing is pure genius. It’s an easy way to turn basic ingredients into satisfying, colorful plant-based feasts. And as a person who’s always looking for simple ways to create vibrant, nutrient-dense meals, I have a feeling my blender's going to get plenty of use from now on.Amy Chaplin
Originally Appeared on Epicurious