It is regrettable that much nonsense has been written about the making of a salad dressing," writes Nicholas Roosevelt in his new book, Good Cooking, soon to appear under the aegis of Harper & Bros. "Many of us were brought up to believe that this was an awesome process, calling for a mixture of witchcraft, audacity, ingenuity, and sternness of character."
Mr. Roosevelt, having read all the authorities and studied the mystique of salad making from every quarter, finally chucked out all the classic (and conflicting) advice on the matter and worked the thing out for himself. The consequence is a fascinating chapter in the new book, due in September (his first cookbook, Creative Cookery, was published in 1956), and in a larger sense a truly original contribution to the art of cuisine.
I spent a day recently with Nick Roosevelt and his wife Tirzah at Point of Whales, Big Sur, Calif. in their falcon's nest of a house perched on cliffs above the knife cut of the famous Big Sur Road (California 1) that skirts the sea headlands from Carmel to San Luis Obispo. They moved here to stay in 1946, when he left his job as assistant to the publisher of the New York Times. The vital, intellectually inquisitive and extremely able Roosevelt (his father was a cousin of TR), having had a wide-ranging career as diplomat, journalist, conservationist, author and lecturer on world affairs, now finds outlet for his talents in playing the cello and experimenting with cookery. "Since we moved into this house, we've had to do all our own cooking," he told me, "so we've had a lot of freedom." He thinks nothing of the distance they must go to obtain supplies; in this remote and rugged location, all the household groceries are fetched once a week from Monterey, 29 miles away.
Roosevelt estimates that in a dozen years' time he has made dressings for at least 3,000 salads. He has arrived at a basic French dressing and a basic mayonnaise, each designed for preparation before mealtime and each to be adapted by putting in small amounts of additional flavoring according to what foodstuffs are to be used in the salad. "Variety," he says, "is the key to salad success. I use my basic French dressing on greens served alone, but vary the dressing, perhaps with chopped herbs, to use on a raw or canned vegetable. If there are two salads to be dressed with mayonnaise, I might add onion juice to one of them to vary the taste."
Here are some of the specifics—salad recipes (see column at right) that I have found to be not only work savers but spellbinding taste discoveries:
BASIC FRENCH DRESSING
(Dresses salad for 6 to 8 people)
Mix in bowl:
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger (or dry mustard)
¼ teaspoon Spice Island Basil Seasoning Powder (a small pinch of pounded dried basil can substitute)
‚⅛ teaspoon monosodium glutamate (sold as Ac'cent, Aji-no-moto, etc.)
2 or 3 drops garlic juice, from garlic squeezer Add, mixing:
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, tarragon-flavored if possible
4 to 6 tablespoons of oil—olive oil and one of the bland, commercial vegetable oils, mixed half and half Beat thoroughly with a rotary beater.
ADDITIONS TO BASIC DRESSING
For tomato salad
Add a tablespoon of chopped fresh basil and chives and the mashed or riced yolk of a hard-cooked egg before incorporating the oil. Prepare tomatoes by skinning, halving lengthwise and then cutting each half into thirds. Cut out all core; discard pulp and seeds. Pour dressing over the remaining strips of tomato, and sprinkle with chopped white of hard-cooked egg.
For water cress
Add ½ teaspoon soy sauce to basic dressing.
For Kidney bean and beet salad
Prepare one can each of these vegetables by draining and rinsing thoroughly to remove the "canned" taste. Quarter the beets and dust with dill salt (put up by the House of Herbs) or powdered dried dill. Combine beets and beans. For each cup of vegetables, add at least one teaspoon finely grated onion—also parsley and marjoram, if desired. Chill before serving.
(With chicken, fish, vegetables, etc., this amount serves 8)
In top of mechanical blender put:
1 raw egg, both white and yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
‚⅛ teaspoon monosodium glutamate
‚⅛ teaspoon Basil Seasoning Powder (or pinch of powdered dried basil)
a few drops of garlic juice
1 cup olive oil and bland vegetable oil, half and half
one fourth of the mixed oil into blender. Run machine for 15 seconds. Slowly add rest of oil, running the blender for a few seconds after each addition.
This quick mayonnaise will last a week in the refrigerator.