This month many of us will be swearing off fat and calories and signing onto salads.
For many of my "less-than-lean" years a wide wedge of iceberg lettuce drenched with Thousand Island dressing was a favorite salad. Later, I learned that a 2-tablespoon serving of that dressing delivered 111 calories and 10.5 fat grams.
Two tablespoons of any dressing barely covered the tip of that iceberg. Since the lettuce contributed only 26 calories, the dressing contributed almost all of the calories (not to mention the fat). No wonder I was less than lean.
In the 90s, when fat-free salad dressings appeared, I believed I'd be able to give the heave-ho to a boatload of calories and my bathroom scale would be my new best friend.
One of those dressings, Kraft's Free Thousand Island, wasn't as tasty as a full-fat version but its 42 calories per 2 tablespoons and a mere 0.49 fat grams made up for the flavor in my mind.
What I didn't realize at the time was the high number of carbohydrates that many fat-free dressings delivered; what they lacked in fat, they made up for in sugar. If I wanted a decent tasting sugar-free, reduced fat salad dressing I'd have to make it myself.
I read labels on some commercial salad dressings and besides sugars and fat the most common ingredient, even in reduced fat and fat-free mayonnaise dressings, turned out to be xanthan gum.
Xanthan gum? It just so happened that I had a small bag of xanthan gum in my pantry that I'd used to bake some gluten-free desserts (you can get a 20-ounce can at Walmart for $11).
Turns out xanthan gum helps emulsify difficult to mix ingredients like water and oil. Plus, it keeps ingredients like herbs and spices from sinking to the bottom. No wonder it's in salad dressings.
Anyway, since I wanted to make a reduced-fat salad dressing that used little to no sugars and wanted it to look as good as commercial dressing and cling to my greens, not the bottom of the bowl, I headed to my kitchen to whisk some xanthan gum into a batch of balsamic dressing. But how much xanthan gum to use?
On the Internet I found Carol Fenster, a gluten free authority, who shared that 1/8 to ¼-teaspoon of xanthan gum to one 1 of liquid (vinegar, oil, water) works like magic.
I whipped up a batch of mustard balsamic dressing with dried basil, slightly thickened chicken broth (to cut the fat) and xanthan gum to blend it all together. It turned out to be an amazingly good dressing with zero added sugars or artificial sweetener. It wasn't calorie free, but I managed to cut the fat by 75-percent and it looked, tasted and acted just like full-fat, high-sugar salad dressings.
If you see many salads in your future, you'll want to give it a try.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.