The topic of getting dressed takes me back to my days at Harper’s Bazaar, when wearing a bad outfit to work was the surest way to ruin a good day. When you spend your waking hours in a fishbowl of fashionistas, you figure out how to rock a chic look on the fly—mostly out of self-preservation. Fortunately, you pick up some tips along the way. Since I ended up devoting my life to dressing kale and arugula rather than runway models, I’ve been happy to discover that what I learned in the fashion world applies to the art of dressing veggies, too.
Great dressings, like great outfits, favor the bold. They need to be intense, even exaggerated, because they are spread out over a volume of relatively bland or less-seasoned things. When tasted alone, dressings will often seem too salty or strong, but in the final dish, the bold and the bland will be assimilated in every bite by the taste buds. Dressings should always be piercing and assertive, a swift kick in the khaki pants.
Just like your dark-wash jeans or little black dress, you need some everyday basics in your arsenal that never let you down. My favorite go-to ingredient is anchovies—those ugly harbingers of briny umami complexity and depth. It’s no surprise that two of the greatest salad dressing innovations of the last century—Cobb and Caesar—rely on these scrawny, oily fish for their ineffable zing. Whirl them into cold dressings and they are sharp and punchy; melt them into hot dressings and they are sweet and practically untraceable—even to anchovy haters.
But life gets boring on basics alone, which is why a fresh accessory is needed to make the pulse race a little, too. My current culinary crush is kefir. Yes, you heard me: I’m obsessed with sour milk. I once had an equally fervent infatuation with skinny red suspenders, which I wore with everything from pencil skirts to bell-bottoms. But I think this kefir thing will be longer lasting and less likely to get tangled up in my socks.
Kefir is a cultured dairy product, like yogurt, but with more diverse beneficial bacteria and yeasts that hang around being helpful in the gut (yogurt biota mostly just cruise on through). It’s tangy and liquid-y enough to be a dressing base by itself, but it’s also a perfect addition to vinaigrettes or sauces—imparting silken body and tart zip all at once. Kefir can be used in any recipe that calls for yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream or cream as a naturally lactose-free substitute (all of the lactose is converted to pucker-y lactic acid).
You may not share my love for sour milk and stinky fish. No matter—your own unique style can, and should be, as present on your table as it is in your closet. Don’t bother with options that don’t make your mouth water, just like you shouldn’t wear a pouf skirt if that’s not your thing.
By Erin Wade • Photography by Melanie Grizzel