I’m not a huge fan of words that start with a prefix and end with “-tarian.” Except vegetarian. That one’s good. But recently it seems like there are a lot of new this-or-that-tarians, you know? Yesterday I heard someone refer to himself as Paleo-tarian. As in, follows the Paleo Diet. Really? Is that a thing now?
I understand that my eating habits are now generally known as “flexitarian.” I don’t love that label. Instead, I usually describe my diet using Michael Pollan’s now-famous axiom: “I eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In other words, I try to eat mostly vegetarian, but also occasionally include meat, fish and poultry in my diet. Occasionally means about once a week or so, give or take. Hence, I guess, I’m FLEXible about my vegeTARIANism.
Since I started eating this way about 18 months ago, I started to recognize vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes as meals in and of themselves and not just as sidekicks to my animal protein entree. Eliminating most of the meat from my daily diet meant that I started to think about combining fruits, veggies, grains and legumes in creative ways. The transition took some time and effort to learn what flavors combined well and how to use herbs and spices differently, but the process was one that I found very rewarding.
But one does not start out a stint of vegetarianism making lentil sloppy joes and roasted eggplant muffaletta sandwiches, oh no. One usually starts out making salads, the simplest and easiest of all vegetarian food options.
Learning how easy it is to make my own salad dressing was a huge deal. A traditional vinaigrette is one part vinegar and three parts oil emulsified with mustard or egg yolk. Try it sometime. Just combine that ratio of vinegar, oil and a bit of mustard in a bowl, whisk, add salt and maybe some pepper and toss in your greens. Voila! Instant salad! And tastes about 1000 times better than any vinaigrette you could buy at the store.
Vinegar can be replaced with any acid and oil with another liquid fat for the same effect. For example, the base of ranch dressing is usually buttermilk (acid) mixed with sour cream or mayonnaise (fat). Greek dressing is usually based on a mixture of lemon juice and red wine vinegar (acid) mixed with olive oil (fat). As long as you add a little emulsifier to the mix, you’ll have a stable vinaigrette that will last from several days up to two weeks, depending on what add-ins you use.
In this recipe, lime juice plays the role of acid against the clean, neutral flavor of canola oil. The mixture is held together by sweet-and-slightly-acid mango puree as the emulsifier. It’s a perfect combination. Sweeten the mix with a bit of honey and sass it up with a splash of sriracha and you’ll have an incredibly smooth sauce that is surprisingly creamy and unbelievably delicious as a dip for raw veggies or a dressing for your salad. I’m also particularly fond of it on a simple slice of avocado. It’s pretty much perfection.
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen mango (fresh heavily preferred)
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 6 tablespoons canola oil or any other neutral-flavored salad oil
- 1 tablespoon honey (see note)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sriracha
- *special equipment: food processor or high powered blender
- In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients. Process for 30-60 seconds or until mixture is light and creamy.
- Drizzle over salad greens topped with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and fresh corn kernels sliced off the cob and lightly sauteed in a teeny bit of oil.
- Use the dressing as a dip for carrot sticks, red pepper slices and avocado slices.
- Toss a few tablespoons of the dressing with chopped cooked chicken, minced cilantro, finely chopped red pepper and a few chopped toasted peanuts for a thai-inspired chicken salad. Serve in a whole wheat wrap with chopped cabbage for garnish.
- HONEY - for a vegan option, substitute agave nectar. Thanks to my friend Adrienne Q. for this tip!