The fat is the culprit. That’s where all the calories are. Most low fat recipes simply dilute the fat with water. That’s unacceptable. The fat in an oil-and-vinegar type dressing does three things:
- It creates a pleasant “mouth feel” to the dressing
- It provides a “stickiness” to coat the greens
- It dilutes the vinegar so that the dressing is more palatable.
But oils carry nearly 2000 calories per cup–way too much.
In Search of a Substitute
So what’s the answer? You need a substitute.
- Water just makes your salad soggy without adding “mouth feel.”
- Fruit juice makes it soggy, the dressing runs off and collects in the bottom of the bowl, and it adds flavors that may not be wanted.
- Honey sticks to the salad but it is very sweet and calorie dense.
You need a neutral-flavored substitute, something that is thick enough to stick to the greens, and something that would mimic the mouth feel of oil.
The only thing we have found that easily meets these requirements is starch. A starch made into a slurry provides body, stickiness, and yet has little flavor. Cornstarch works well but it does have a milky appearance that detracts from the brightness of the greens. Clearjel, a modified cornstarch, works better because it’s more transparent.
You want a slurry with a viscosity similar to oil, maybe just a little thicker when chilled. We simply cooked the slurry on the stovetop and then chilled it in the refrigerator. A slurry made with one tablespoon cornstarch to two cups of water has the right viscosity, a thin viscosity similar to oil.
We tried several different ratios of slurry to oil—from substituting all of the oil for the cornstarch slurry to a 50% ratio. We found that it was always nice to have a little oil in the dressing but that it was not necessary. Our choice was one-fourth oil and three-fourths slurry. When we mixed this slurry into a dressing it looked good and made a very satisfactory dressing very similar to that made full-strength with oil.
Does it work? In dressings carrying significant other flavors, such as a French dressing or a vinaigrette, you will not be able to tell the difference. Since we cut out 75% of the fat, we eliminated up to 75% of the calories. We ran the nutritional calculations for one of our dressing recipes. It reduced the calories from 130 calories per two-tablespoon serving to 40 calories.
- We recommend substituting a slurry for some of the oil in most recipes. We do not recommend the substitution for dressings calling for olive, walnut, or flavored oils.
- To make the slurry, simply mix a little of the water with the cornstarch in a saucepan to dissolve the powder, stir in the rest of the water, and cook until clear and bubbly. Add it to the dressing once it cools.
- We recommend making a batch of slurry, two to four cups at a time, and storing it in the refrigerator to use as you make dressings.
Using Your Salad Dressing Genie
The Salad Dressing Genie is a quick way to make six kinds of dressing in a hurry. Add the ingredients up to marked lines and shake. Store you finished dressing in the refrigerator. There is a mark on the bottle for oil for each of the recipes. Substitute a 3 to 1 mix of slurry and oil. It doesn’t have to be exact. Add the other ingredients and shake.
Dennis Weaver has burnt food from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. He is the founder of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho and the author of How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking available as an Ebook or as a Kindle book on Amazon.
He loves to help people bake and shares his vast collection of cooking and baking knowledge on his blog as well as in his Ebooks and Magazines.
Dennis lives in Rigby, Idaho, with his wife, Merri Ann. They have five wonderful children.
To learn more about The Prepared Pantry, visit our website at www.preparedpantry.com.