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Labels, Health, and Caesar Dressing (a recipe)

Cool flowchart done by Cole Bradburn, with the original's language toned down a bit. 🙂

I’m not a real stickler with labels.  PEOPLE-labels, that is.  Ingredient labels I do read, without fail.  But, having a label helps, sometimes, when hunting for diet-compliant resources.  Thanks to this article from medical doctor and true nutrition expert, Dr. Cate, I now can call myself a “Herder-Gatherer Paleo” adherent.  That’s plants, meats, and a bit of dairy.  Most of those who eat Paleo don’t eat any dairy.  I also eat some legumes, which most Paleo folk don’t.  I don’t really care about that, though.  I don’t care about strict adherence, either.  For instance, many people who eat Paleo wouldn’t eat rice vinegar because it’s made from rice (a grain) or white vinegar because it’s made from a grain (corn).  I think any diet can be taken to such extremes that it becomes silly and prohibitive.  I’m not going there.  For me, what matters is, “Is it healthy?” more than, “Does such-and-such website say I should eat it?”*

The net result, though, is that I need to alter pretty much any recipe I find to suit my needs, tastes, and what I will/won’t eat.  And what’s on hand in my fridge and pantry.  And what can be made for reasonable cost, given that we have seven people in our home.  And that said seven people can/will eat what I make, at least a majority of them.

This recipe is wholly inspired by my friend Kim of GF Real Food.  I went over to her house a few weeks ago and was impressed by how quickly she whipped up a caesar salad from scratch.  She also clued me into the 2.5 lb bags of washed romaine lettuce from Costco that are $3.99 per bag.  AND, I made the recipe in a mini food processor that she passed onto me, when she got a shiny new one.  🙂  Thank you, Kim!  I probably could have asked her for her recipe… instead, I went hunting online.  And, while I found several good recipes, no ONE suited my needs, which included using Pecorino Romano (made of 100% sheep’s milk) in lieu of parmesan.  I love me some good, sharp parmesan, but my 10yo son, Wesley, can’t have any cow dairy (unless it’s raw, which is another story).  Also, caesar dressing is traditionally made with balsamic vinegar, which I simply didn’t have in my pantry.  And so on.  By the time I was done, I had so completely altered the original recipe that I think I can call it a new one.

A few notes:

  • The Yuck Factor:  Yes, it has raw egg yolk.  The acid in the recipe essentially “cooks” the yolk, sort of like ceviche.
  • The Carb Count:  Unless the vinegar you use has sweetener of some sort, there are virtually no carbs in this dressing.
  • The Revelation:  I am rather embarrassed that I never realized that real caesar dressing is pretty much just a fancy aioli, or homemade mayonnaise.
  • The Roasted Garlic:  The recipe calls for roasted garlic cloves.  To roast:  Break apart a head of garlic, but do not peel.  Loosely gather a piece of aluminum foil around the cloves, and place in a 325°F oven for about 45 minutes.  Or, like me, roast it for 30 minutes, turn the oven off, and let the garlic sit in there for another hour or so.  To open, just squeeze the top of the clove.  The cloves should be butter-soft and light tan in color.
  • The Lettuce:  Traditionally, caesar dressing is served over romaine lettuce.  If you use four cups of romaine (which is essentially two large servings), that will give you about 2g net carbs and 4g fiber.
  • The “Croutons”:  Traditionally, caesar salads have croutons.  To make it gluten-free, and simply so, I served it with farinata, a grain-free flatbread that I still adore, even though I’ve been making it nearly every day of my life for the last 2½ years or so.  One-eighth of the recipe will give you 10g net carbs and 4g fiber.
  • The Protein:  I also pan-seared some sea-salted chicken breast, chopped it, and added it warm to the salad.  The dressing, the chicken, the farinata… Ah!  It all combined for a gloriously delicious meal that ALL OF US loved, from adults to wee children.  Well, “adult”, rather.  My hubby couldn’t have it, as it’s not Daniel Fast*-compliant.  He had plain lettuce and farinata.  And some garden tomatoes and cucumbers.  And pan-seared extra-firm tofu.
  • The Cost:  (02.02.12 — edited to update costs.  I went to TJ’s last night, and either the price had gone down on anchovies, or I remembered incorrectly.  Corrections made.) Given the amount of olive oil, anchovies, and Pecorino Romano cheese in this recipe, it’s fairly pricey for a homemade concoction.  I buy olive oil at Trader Joe’s, $5.99 for a 1 liter bottle of Spanish olive oil (my fave).  They have even less expensive olive oil at T.J.’s, too.  I also get anchovies there, $1.99 $1.49 for a 2 oz tin in olive oil.  And, I purchase Pecorino Romano there, too!  It’s $6.79 per pound, and one cup shredded is about 1/8 pound, so that’s $0.85.  So, this recipe costs about $4.35 $3.85 for the nearly-two-cups it produces.  Compared to store-bought, especially natural store-bought, that’s a fair price.  Most salad dressings are in 8 or 12 oz bottles, and this makes almost 16 oz.  Still, it’s not cheap.  It’s special occasion.  🙂  Added all together:  half a package of afore-mentioned lettuce ($2), 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast on sale ($3), farinata (cost is negligible, but let’s call it $0.50), plus the dressing at $4.35 $3.85 = Dinner for 6 for $9.85 $9.35.  That’s more than I would typically spend on one night’s dinner, but again, definitely worth it, on occasion.
Pecorino Romano Caesar Dressing
Pecorino Romano Caesar Dressing
makes nearly 2 cups
Time:  About five minutes
 
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard (also from Trader Joe’s!  No preservatives, all natural.)
  • 2 oz tin of anchovies in olive oil
  • 8 cloves roasted garlic
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar (or other vinegar of your choice)
  • 1 Tbsp preservative-free lemon juice 
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 2.5 oz)
  • 2 Tbsp water, if necessary
  • Freshly cracked pepper, to taste.
  1. Into a food processor or blender, measure egg yolks, Dijon mustard, anchovies, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Pecorino Romano cheese, reserving 2 Tbsp grated Pecorino Romano cheese.  Pulse to mix thoroughly.
  2. If resulting dressing is thicker than you’d prefer, add optional water, a couple of teaspoons at a time, until you reach the consistency you desire.
  3. Sprinkle remaining Pecorino Romano on top of dressed salad.  Top, also, with cracked pepper to taste.
  4. Enjoy!

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*I’ve been having a disagreement with my husband about this.  He’s on a Daniel Fast, which he typically does for 2-4 weeks at a time, twice a year.  In general terms, a Daniel Fast is a whole foods, vegan diet, based upon the example of a few upper-crust Hebrew men, including Daniel, who were taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and challenged their captors to test their health after an all-veggie diet.  In the past, my hubby has allowed himself a few natural sweeteners, like honey, and not been too particular about one tiny ingredient or another.  However, this go-round, he has been following the protocol of a few websites devoted to the Daniel Fast, and they say that one shouldn’t have any vinegar, either, since it’s fermented, as was the wine that Daniel forewent.  I think that’s too nit-picky.  However, my husband feels more comfortable following the rules to the letter, even if — as my point is — who are those folks to make the rules???  But, to each his own.  I do understand how one can really long for guidelines, boundaries, and it become important not to cross them.  I kind of used to be like that.  🙂

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