Our neighbors must lead busy lives, because every time I stand at our kitchen window and stare at their house—which is, yes, fairly common, but no, there’s no good reason, their house just takes up most of the view—I see someone come or go. I find it exciting, like I’ve just seen a falling star, even though I just told you it happens every time. It’s not exciting at all. There isn’t even anything interesting about them, except that they seem to possibly have a lot of kids, but they might just have two kids spaced far apart. One day their dog rolled around in the dirt a little bit and the five-year-old shrieked and shrieked with giddy laughter. That’s how exciting their lives are.
Meanwhile, they show up to take their groceries out of the car and I’m standing across the street with my bowl of cereal like I just won a Pulitzer. I’m throwing myself a party and I don’t know why. When I want to get excited about something that either is potentially exciting or might do me some good, my own enthusiasm shrivels out of reach and I’m like, ugh, salad.
So yeah, I’m trying to be more interested in salad.
STEP ONE: Get some vegetables that don’t suck. Spinach, carrots, tomatoes, onions—this is a fine start, but a lousy salad. I need something to aim for. Cucumbers, broccoli florets, snap peas. Are beets still considered a vegetable if they’re pickled?
STEP TWO: Add some stuff that isn’t stupid vegetables. The idea of fruit in my salad came into vogue years before I was able to accept it, but with the right dressing, I now understand that grapes, oranges, apples, cranberries, and even strawberries can be a huge salad improvement. But I say again, it depends on the dressing. No ranch grapes. No thousand island grapefruit.
STEP THREE: Add more stuff that isn’t stupid vegetables. Chow mein noodles! Sliced almonds! Sunflower seeds! Flax! Cheese, even! Anything. Come on.
STEP FOUR: Have salad dressing that isn’t horrible. Horrible means different things to different people. To me, it includes: loaded with preservatives; tasting strongly of vinegar; too creamy and fatty; too thin and runny; too thick and gloopy; too lumpy; too slimy; too salty; too sweet; too the same as the one I loved last time but have now tired of. It’s clear that personally, dressing is my main problem with staying interested in salad.
So I’ve been making more of my own dressings, two at a time so I always have a choice. Here are the two in my fridge right now: one rich and heavy tahini dressing, and one light, sweet and spicy Thai coconut dressing.
Tahini Citrus dressing
This dressing is rich and creamy, with a flavor and texture reminiscent of peanut sauce. Make it thin enough to drizzle, or keep it thick to use as a dip—your call.
- 1/4 cup tahini
- Juice of one tangelo (I like tart mineolas) or two clementines
- 1 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne (or more, to taste)
- Stir together tahini and juice until creamy. Add soy sauce, honey and cayenne and stir, again until texture is consistent. While stirring, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until the desired thickness is reached.
- If you plan to serve immediately, then serve immediately!
- If you plan to refrigerate the dressing, continue to thin it with at least a 3–4 tablespoons more water beyond the desired thickness, because refrigeration will thicken the tahini considerably.
Coconut Lime Dressing
This is a light dressing—think oil-and-vinegar light—with ratios that are easy to control and customize. Want more lime flavor? Add more lime juice, less coconut milk! More coconut flavor? More coconut milk, less lime juice! If you don’t prefer a spicy dressing, add the chili paste a little at a time and taste as you go. The body of the dressing comes from the chili paste, the honey, and the corn starch, so if you reduce either of the first two flavors, consider adding a dash more starch…but be mindful that too much cornstarch in an uncooked recipe will eventually result in a starchy texture. The best thing to do? Taste as you go!
- 1/2 cup coconut milk, divided
- 1 1/2 tsp corn starch
- 2 Tbsp roasted chili paste
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 1/2 tsp honey
- Place 1/4 cup of coconut milk and all the corn starch into a container with a tight-fitting lid and shake as though your life depends on it.
- Add chili paste, lime juice and honey, and shake even harder, until you become lightheaded.
- Add additional coconut milk until reaching the desired flavor and consistency. Taste; add more of anything you wish to taste more of, and shake again if necessary. Refrigerate 1 hour and serve.
I’m a fan of both of these, especially how different they are from one another. Which is great for now. But once they’re gone I’ll be bored and it’ll be time to move on to something else. Since it’s tough to wash dishes right now (no actual kitchen in the kitchen yet), I’m partial to recipes that don’t involve chopping, processing, blending or emulsifying. Who has a favorite? Recommendations will be gratefully accepted in the comments below!