Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dress it Green: Part Two

Dress it Green- Part Two: The Oil
We're talking here about dressings for the spring greens soon to grace our salad bowls. And while I  love olive oil and cook with it in many recipes, I just like a change right about this time of year. Add to that the fact that I think the perfect oils to use in Spring vinaigrettes and dressings are the nut oils or perhaps safflower oil.

Health-wise, there are a couple of things to consider. First oils are fats and they deliver the same measure of energy to the body regardless of their origin- 90 calories for every 2 teaspoons. Second, oils are classified as being saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, depending on the type of fatty acids they contain. Generally, we cook with olive oil because it has a higher smoke point, meaning it won't break down at higher heat and it is healthier than saturated oils or fats such as shortening, lard or butter [although for flavor, I often use part butter and part olive oil]. There are other health benefits in olive oil and perhaps at some later date I shall get into all that. The key to using the mono- and polyunsaturated oils is their heart healthy properties.

For now, let me tell you about the nut oils I will use in my Spring dressings. Not inexpensive, nut oils are made with crushed nuts that are roasted to a brown paste. During this process, some oil runs off and is collected, then the toasted paste is pressed using hydraulic pressure to separate out the remaining toasted oil from the nut solids. The run-off oil and the toasted oil are filtered, mixed and bottled. It is the heat that extracts the distinctive nutty aroma and flavor. Usually you can purchase small amounts of walnut, almond, pistachio and hazelnut oils. And that's good because of the price and the fact that a small amount of nut oil goes a long way.

Walnut Oil:- A polyunsaturated oil, which means you can cook with it [but at the cost, why would you?], walnut oil is not extracted under heat like the other nut oils. It is delicately walnutty in flavor and perfect for spring salads. Use it after roasting or grilling vegetables or meats to impart that uniquely walnut flavor, just don't use it for deep-frying or in the skillet. There are several brands of walnut oil out there. I like La Nogalera.

Almond Oil:- I first used almond oil [called almond douce or sweet almond oil and while made from almonds, not made using heat] for my herbal face cream recipes. It is delicate and light and didn't sit on the skin too long, making it feel greasy. But I never ate my creams. Think of using almond oil in recipes were almonds are an ingredient. So you could lightly oil the baking sheets or pans of almond cookies or almond cakes. Sole brushed with almond oil and then sprinkled with slivered almonds is very nice. Spectrum oils are organic and high quality.

Pistachio Oil:- Strong green in color and with the distinct pistachio flavor, this is a rarely used oil, but when used with citrus fruit, pears or some of the red and mahogany rices, it can be the one key ingredient. Roland Pistachio oil looks like it is produced domestically, but again La Tourangelle is very fine.

Hazelnut Oil:- More delicate than walnut oil, hazelnut is a monounsaturated, definitely not suited for frying, best used in dressings. For a real hit, combine a glaze or dressing made with hazelnut oil with toasted hazelnuts. It goes rancid fairly quickly, so buy in small quantities and store in a dark glass container [I just don't like plastic] in a cool place. Amazon sells La Tourangelle Roasted Hazelnut Oil but I would never use the three-pack before it turns.

Pecan and Macadamia Oils:- Keep in mind that the nut oils will be a more delicate aroma and flavor as the nuts from which they are pressed. La Tourangelle offers a Pecan oil and the Now brand is available online.

Watch for...Dress it Green Part Three: The Dressings 


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