Tools of the Trade: Pretty-Good-Paleo Storebought Dressing, and How to Make Tender Kale Salad

25 Sep

One of the best standard paleo meals one can possibly have is a nice big salad made with fresh, colorful, nutritious vegetables and other nifty add-ons like berries, nuts, or even sardines. Unfortunately, even though my taste buds have become more sensitive to the natural sensations of fresh veggies, I still have found it difficult to get myself excited over salad. Part of the problem is that most of my life conditioned me to expect flavorful dressings on top of said salads. I do enjoy vinegar and in a pinch will toss some good olive oil and red wine vinegar on a salad, but I miss the flavors of more complicated dressings. The vast, vast majority of store-bought dressings, though, proudly proclaim themselves to be low-fat, which is a dead giveaway that they are filled with crappy rancid vegetable oils and sweeteners like HFCS. You can make your own dressings, of course, but I have had trouble mustering enough effort to do so regularly. Over the last few years, I have kept my eye out for possible pre-packaged paleo dressings, but didn’t hold up much hope for success.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the following dressing caught my eye on a recent trip to my local independent grocery store. I was already familiar with the Bragg brand, as I am a big fan of their raw organic apple cider vinegar. I had no idea they were making bottled salad dressings. It made sense, though, since their company seems to deal primarily with vinegars and oils. Curious, I immediately did what any good paleo person does and turned the bottle around to read the ingredient label. What I found surprised me so much I read it twice:

Ingredients: Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Bragg Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, purified water, organic honey, organic garlic, Bragg Liquid Aminos (vegetable soy protein & purified water), organic onion, organic black pepper and natural xanthan gum.

No heavy sweeteners, no artificial sweeteners, no crappy vegetable oils. Pretty much the only non-paleo thing is the aminos, since they make theirs from soy protein. But I personally find that I do ok with a little bit of soy product (such as soy sauce), and its pretty low on the ingredient label anyway, so I was willing to give it a shot.

The dressing is tangy and balanced in a way that my half-assed homemade dressings never seem to achieve. It isn’t as salty as I would like, but that’s easily remedied by adding more salt to the salad. Most importantly, it is ready-to-go, which means I can grab it to drizzle on salad or veggies with minimal amounts of fuss and cleanup. Considering how much time I spend home-preparing my meals these days, shortcuts like these are a lifesaver.

I also discovered something interesting: after opening the bottle to use for the first time, I did what I have always done with dressings my entire life and put the bottle in the fridge. But imagine my amusement when, a couple days later, I went to grab the bottle and found that all the olive oil had solidified at the top. I had no idea that olive oil would condense like that in a cold environment. I looked more closely at the bottle and saw that they specifically recommend not putting it in the fridge, likely for that reason. It also made me realize how screwed up other pre-made dressings must be; they try to remove as much fat as possible, which means they have to add as many sweeteners as possible to make it taste good, but too much sugar might encourage bacterial growth, so it has to be kept in the fridge, but then that must limit the amount of olive oil they can add to the dressings because otherwise it would solidify and be unsightly so they have to rely almost exclusively on vegetable oils. It’s just a vicious cycle that has lead to the production of something that isn’t even food anymore.

One of the first things I used the dressing for was to spiff-up my kale salads. See, I only recently learned how to tenderize kale properly in order to make a functional salad. I like cooked kale, and kale chips, but I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong in my salads since everytime I made one it tasted like waxy algae. Turns out the answer is simple and I share it here with you today just in case anyone else also hasn’t learned the trick yet:

HOW TO TENDERIZE KALE FOR A SALAD

Step 1: Get good quality organic kale. I prefer the frizzy kale, and I tend to go for bunches where the leaves are tightly-frizzy, rather than being broader and more open.

salad1

Step 2: Cut out the center vein of each kale leaf and tear the remaining bits into chunks. If there are still some tough, thick veins in the chunks, remove those too.

salad2

Step 3: Put the kale into a large bowl, add a few dashes of kosher salt (optional), then massage the kale. Get your hands in there and crunch and squeeze your heart out. Sometimes I take small handfuls in between my hands and kneed them together in a quick rolling motion. You are trying to break down the cell walls of the leaves which will release enzymes to help break the cellulose down even further. Basically, you are literally pre-digesting the kale, like a ruminant mammal chewing its cud. Only you’re chewing it with your hands. You’ll know you’re done when the vast majority of the leaves turn a darker shade of green and wilt down to take up less volume in the bowl:

salad3

And now your kale is ready to go. Add whatever dressings or toppings you wish. If time allows, I like to add my dressing and then chill it in the fridge for an hour or so for the flavors to really set into the leaves. For this salad, I of course used the Bragg’s dressing, and I also added shredded purple cabbage and raw sunflower seeds. It was so delicious and satisfying that I actually ate the whole salad in one go before I even thought to turn to the meat I was having it with.

salad4

So if you too enjoy your salads but are lazy about your dressings, check out the Bragg’s dressings. They also have a ginger-sesame dressing that is technically even more paleo because it doesn’t have the aminos, but I didn’t like that one as much. They also have a sweet fruit-based dressing made with berry, grape, and pomegranate puree. I have a bottle of that too, but since it is so sweet,I only use it for special occasions and specific salads (like spinach, goat cheese, and fruit salads) rather than as my default dressing (and like I said, I prefer tart vinegary dressings anyway).

Currently Amazon is listing these dressings for around $10 a bottle, which is a little pricey considering they are at my brick-and-mortar grocery store for about $7 a bottle. Now that I’m looking, I’m also seeing them show up in more and more places, so if you are interested in trying them keep your eye out!

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2 Responses to “Tools of the Trade: Pretty-Good-Paleo Storebought Dressing, and How to Make Tender Kale Salad”

  1. Angela-Chicken Scoop October 4, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing your “discovery”. I don’t have the time or skill to make my own dressings (I am really, really terrible at it) so this is a lifesaver! And my go-to place for health foods is Vitacost.com. I just checked and they have a couple of the Bragg dressings (2 are fat free, I can add my own oil?) and they are like $5 🙂 And its always free shipping for orders over $25.

  2. Twinkle November 4, 2013 at 5:26 am #

    Thank you for the head’s up. I’m having a hard time giving up soy sauce so the aminos don’t bother me. I had given up on pre-made dressings since making the switch to Paleo, but my Whole Foods started stocking Tessamae’s. They have several Paleo/Whole30 compliant dressings (http://www.tessemaes.com/collections/dressings/paleo) but I’m not sure if it is widely available yet.

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