Salad Dressing and Menu Planning
One of the hardest things about getting into the habit of cooking for yourself is having the ingredients on hand. For many people, home cooking is synonymous with constant trips to the grocery store and still never having the ingredients you need when you need them. Some of my friends and family members don’t cook because they think it means going to the grocery store daily. Some who do cook do go to the grocery store daily. When you’re living in a city where you walk a lot, like Manhattan, you get spoiled by the convenience of popping into your corner bodega or grocery store on your way home from wherever to pick up the one ingredient you are missing. On the other hand, living in a city makes the big grocery trips a total inconvenience when you don’t have a car, particularly when you are getting bulk items or heavy bags of flour and bottles of olive oil.
All of these barriers aside, a key to home cooking success is organization. Even if you aren’t the most organized person, planning out a week’s worth of meals streamlines the process and just makes it easier. It also means you will actually cook instead of panicking at having no ideas or nothing to make on Tuesday night at 6:30 and opting for take out instead.
Once you have a menu, then it’s time for a grocery list. You need more on your list than just the ingredients for your main dish. Personally, I like to have a salad with dinner every night. It is filling, textured, healthy, and quick to prepare. It makes even a light, thrown-together dinner feel like a real meal. In this post, I am going to include a couple of my favorite dressing recipes. I really, truly dislike bottled dressing. Mostly, it takes like bottled sodium to me. My friends say this makes me a dressing snob. However, I stick to my claims that homemade dressing tastes better and is significantly healthier for you. It is also incredibly easy. Some dressings you can make in advance and just toss with your salad. Others I make directly on the salad. Serving salads pre-dressed is another point of contention with my friends—I just don’t like having to toss my salad on my plate!
Monday—Asian salad, Soba Noodles with tofu and broccoli
Tuesday—Salad a la Qubano, Eggplant Lasagna, and bruschetta
Wednesday—Romaine with bell pepper and craisins, Stir fry with quinoa
Thursday—Romaine with cucumbers and scallions, Spicy chickpeas with brown rice and squash soup
Friday—Tomato salad, Thai Fish, green beans, and pear bread
It’s a bit heavy on the Asian-inspired dishes, but they are tasty, healthy, and filling. Some of these are recipes I have posted about before. The others I will post about soon. In the mean time, here is what I would get at the grocery store for these meals, assuming I was buying for one or two people to eat each meal and that I already had the staples in my pantry. As you can see, if you have these things on hand, your weekly grocery shopping will mostly involve buying the fresh produce. The fish should be purchased day of so that it’s fresh (and I wouldn’t buy it over the weekend), or you can use a frozen fish. I usually get tilapia because it is affordable, relatively sustainable, and tastes good with many preparations. Even though it means an extra trip to the store, I saved the fish for Friday because, being Shabbat and the end of the week, I like to have a special meal, complete with dessert.
1 bag romaine hearts or one large head of romaine lettuce
1 large eggplant (it should feel heavy for its size)
1 winter squash (butternut or carnival are good choices)
2 handfuls of green beans
1 bunch of broccoli
3-4 fresh tomatoes (I know, it’s a fruit…)
1 head of cauliflower
2-3 kirby cucumbers
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper
1 bunch scallions
2-4 firm pears
Fruit for snacking
1 jar tomato sauce (you can also make your own)
1 baguette or crusty loaf of bread
2 packages of tofu
1 bag walnuts
1/2 dozen eggs
1 bag craisins
Any staples you’ve run out of
And now that the business is out of the way, on to salad dressing!
I recently posted about one of my favorite dressings, an apple cider vinegar and mustard vinaigrette. I always have these ingredients on hand because it makes a plain salad brighten up with its tangy flavor. You can keep a jar of this in the refrigerator for about a month, which is convenient. I usually use salad dressing as an excuse to buy juices in glass bottles, like Snapple. They make excellent bottles for dressing. I particularly love this dressing with romaine lettuce, avocados, and chickpeas. If you mash the avocado as you toss the salad, it becomes part of the dressing making it creamy.
Another crucial piece of my recipe repertoire is a simple balsamic vinegar dressing. Unfortunately, I do this one by eye and any attempts to write down measurements have resulted in failure. Essentially, you need olive oil, garlic powder (the granulated kind), balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. First I toss the lettuce with the barest amount of olive oil, until all of the leaves are glistening. Then sprinkle the garlic powder lightly over the surface of a bowl so that there is a thin film of garlic on top. Toss. Pour the balsamic vinegar in a circle on top of the lettuce, two concentric circles if you really like vinegar. Two shakes of salt and one of pepper. Toss and taste, adjusting seasoning as needed. For tomato salad, I skip the garlic powder so that the tomato shines through.