by Mimi Rippee
With spring comes a wave of new greens and of course, salads. We also work at shedding our winter skin (i.e., the extra fat no longer needed for cold-weather insulation). In her book Healthy America, Mimi Rippee takes an aggressive approach to cutting the fat out of our diets, as can be seen in her chapter on Salad Dressings...
"Rabbit Food", as it is known to those few souls who dislike munching away at greenery, has become extremely popular in America. Salad bars are common in restaurants, and many of us eat salads for lunch in order to "balance" our daily meals. But how healthy are these salads?
Salads can offer an abundance of nourishment, but the benefits are commonly outweighed by salad dressings—especially those dominated by oil and mayonnaise. These are the culprits that can turn a healthy salad into something less so. To prepare the healthiest possible salad dressings, it is important to understand a few food facts.
Oil is 100% fat. Although it is true that certain components of oil by themselves are health-improving, saturated fat, which is also present in oil, counteracts any positive result. Remember this—olive oil is not "good" for you, it is "less bad" for you. This is an important distinction. The people who want you to believe that olive oil is healthy are the people who sell olive oil. All oils weigh in at a whopping 14 grams of fat per tablespoon.
It is important to understand the distinction between fat and cholesterol. Fat and cholesterol are both present in animal products (meat, fish, dairy, eggs, lard, butter, etc.) Plant foods (vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, etc.) do not contain cholesterol. But this doesn't mean that they don't contain fat. Nuts are a perfect example—no cholesterol, but extremely high in fat.
The oils with the lowest amounts of saturated fat, which is the worst kind of fat, include olive, safflower, corn, canola, and sunflower. The best, and most flavorful olive oil to use is cold-pressed, extra-virgin oil. The next best is virgin. "Pure" or "fine" olive oils are of inferior quality, both from a taste and nutrition standpoint. Note that "light" olive oil refers to less flavor and lighter color, not reduced fat.
If flavor is not a factor, then any of the other oils will work. But just remember—14 grams of total fat per tablespoon—no matter what oil!
Mayonnaise, a common base for salad dressings, is made from oil as well as eggs. One tablespoon of mayonnaise typically contains 12 grams of total fat. Don't be fooled into buying cholesterol-free mayonnaise, thinking this is a healthful product. Removing the cholesterol does not necessarilly remove the fat—it simply reflects the omission of egg yolks (which contain the cholesterol). This product is still high in fat.
Non-fat mayonnaise is now available, but it has added sugar and chemicals, and the resulting flavor is flat. If you're concerned about fat consumption, try Nayonnaise, a healthy mayonnaise made from soybeans that contains only 3 grams of fat per tablespoon. It is available at your local health food store.
Fortunately, vinegar contains no fat and very few calories, so it is one product that can be used frivolously! There are many different kinds of vinegar. Red or white wine vinegar is standard for salad dressings, but apple cider vinegar is also flavorful, and less expensive. For those of you who prefer less acidity, try rice wine vinegar. If you like lots of flavor, add a splash of balsamic vinegar to your dressing, or use a flavored vinegar like herbed or raspberry. Vinegar can also be replaced by fresh lemon juice, depending on your taste, for a different kind of zing!
A note from the author:
Leave those bottled dressings alone! It takes minutes to prepare tasty dressings, and they won't contain preservatives, colors, thickeners, stabilizers, and the like. Plus, you can customize dressings for your meals. Change a basic vinaigrette by simply adding curry powder, or tarragon, or paprika! Get creative!!
Combine all ingredients in a jar or sealed container. Shake well. Let sit for at least a few hours at room temperature before using, but store in the refrigerator.
Option: Mexican Vinaigrette—Add 1 teaspoon ground cumin.
Option: Southwestern Vinaigrette—Add 1 teaspoon chili powder and 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne. Cut back oregano to 1/2 teaspoon.
Light Vinaigrette (for those of you really watching your fat intake!)
Follow directions for Vinaigrette, above.
Place the first ten ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth; add a little skim milk, if necessary, to thin to appropriate consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
"Healthy gourmet recipes are wonderful, but they don't necessarily serve average people who have stubborn husbands and picky children at the dinner table. I wanted to provide a cookbook that was practical," says Mimi Rippee.
After talking to moms who were frustrated with the same dilemma, Mimi decided to write a cookbook. She combined her cooking skills with her knowledge of nutrition, and in 1994 penned and published Healthy America, a beginner's guide to buying and preparing healthier food. "It's called Healthy America because the recipes are traditional American recipes. These are the foods that families eat, only made healthier by using healthier ingredients." Recipes like Macaroni and Cheese, Beef Goulash and Tuna Casserole. (Try her healthy salad dressings in this month's Quick Tips.)
After living in Texas and Oklahoma for the past 15 years, Mimi is familiar with the eating habits of Middle America. "Most food is eaten out at fast-food restaurants, quick stops, and vending machines. If cooking is prepared at home it is usually 'convenience' products.' Unfortunately, food has become something that gets in the way of everyday life, instead of being the most important thing we can do for ourselves and our children. Most people claim that they don't have time to cook. But when I see children eating candy bars for breakfast, it makes me crazy!"
So much so that Mimi travels now throughout the Mid-West as a motivational speaker, inspiring people to take charge of their health. Bon Appetit magazine is spotlighting her in an upcoming 1997 issue and she has won several awards, for her work as a health advocate.
Is it about perfection? Never an indulgence? "No way!" claims Mimi. "We have to be realistic. We can't quit our jobs to raise all our own food. It would be ridiculous to never celebrate with food. But we can make healthy food a priority in our lives." Her suggestion is, "eat the healthiest possible food as often as possible!"
This healthy passion is not just all tofu, tempeh or sprouts—Mimi has plenty of spice in her life. She is employed as a personal chef, plus writes for the Global Gourmet on America Online. Her daughters, now 13 and 10, have gotten past the macaroni and cheese stage. "Indian and Mexican foods are their favorites now so I can make meals that all four of us enjoy." Mimi is further challenged when cooking at home because her husband is a vegetarian. "Sometimes I feel like a short-order cook!" But with her job as a personal cook, plus occasional catering jobs, Mimi still gets to don her international toque and continue with her global endeavors.
So Mimi wears two hats in her kitchen. If someone wants her to make Chocolate Mousse for 50, she will. (And she won't make a non-fat version!) But when it comes to cooking for her family, Mimi prepares 'food that nourishes.' "Thank goodness, " she remarks with a laugh, "that I don't have two heads to fill these hats!"
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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