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Recipe of the week - easy lemon vinaigrette

Many people don't realize just how easy it is to create a simple and delicious salad dressing; or just how many preservatives and undesirable ingredients are in store bought dressing. Next time you are in the grocery store, take a look at some of the ingredient lists on the back of your favorite dressings. Many of them are packed with artificial flavors, salt, and sugar, not to mention less healthy oils. When you make your own, you can control exactly what goes into it, and customize it to your and your family's taste. It is highly likely that you already have most of the ingredients in your cupboard.

I usually make about one cup of dressing at a time - enough to use a few times, but not so much that it will spoil - and I like to make it in an old fashioned jar for easy mixing and storage. Any dressing that contains dairy should be used within a week, but vinaigrettes typically last 2 weeks or more in an air tight container in the refrigerator.

The key to a good vinaigrette is getting the right ratio of oil to acid. Generally you should have about twice as much oil as you do acid. I like to use extra virgin olive oil, but you can substitute any oil you like - coconut oil, avocado oil, etc. I became a little obsessed with lemons while living in New Zealand, where lemon trees seemed to grow in everyone's front yard, so I like to use fresh squeezed lemon juice as the acidic component in my vinaigrette. However, any vinegar will do as well - balsamic, apple cider, red wine vinegar, etc. Acids like lemon juice help break down the cellulose fiber in tough greens and vegetables, leading to easier digestion and better absorption of nutrients.

Once you have these two basic components, use whatever herbs, spices, or other flavors sound good to your palate. Herbs and spices also aid in digestion of food and help you get the most nutrients from all of those healthy veggies in your salad. Some of my favorites for this recipe include salt, pepper, garlic, mustard, or shallots. But you can also add honey, cumin, Italian spices, red pepper flakes, fresh ginger, soy sauce ... the list is endless.

Simple Lemon Vinaigrette

2/3 cup EVOO

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (1-2 lemons)

Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Optional: minced garlic to add more punch; lemon zest (see why below)

Play around with these simple flavors and find what tastes great to you. Not only will you be getting more from your salad, you'll save money too!

More on the health benefits of lemons:

1. Lemons are rich in vitamin C - Vitamin C is great for immunity and essential for healthy collagen formation, which is the framework of our skin and bones. Vitamin C also facilitates optimum absorption of iron, necessary for making red blood cells.

2. Lemon juice enhances the livers ability to clear out toxins from the body, including cholesterol.

3. They help prevent formation of kidney stones, and can aid in clearing gallbladder sludge.

4. They are alkaline in nature and reduce acidity in the body, thereby reducing pain and inflammation in the joints (often caused by increased levels of uric acid). Though lemons are acidic before they are eaten, once digested they produce alkaline byproducts.

5. Limonene present in the lemon peel helps in preventing growth of cancer, and has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.

6. Lemons help in controlling blood pressure as they are rich in potassium and help maintain healthy kidneys.

7. Lemons offer an anti-aging benefit - they are rich in antioxidants, which are scavengers of free radicals that cause cell damage.

8. The antioxidants in lemon juice may also help reduce the risk of heart disease by strengthening blood vessels, reducing inflammation and preventing the accumulation of plaque.

9. Lemon juice aids in healthy digestion. It has been shown to relieve indigestion symptoms such bloating, lose bowel movements, constipation, heartburn and burping,

10. Lemons are helpful in maintaining a healthy weight - they contain pectin fiber, which can suppress the appetite and reduce cravings.

The bright yellow color of lemons just makes me happy! When I returned home after living in New Zealand, one of my first purchases was a lemon tree from South Carolina. It is currently potted indoors for the winter, but will return to our front porch once the weather stabilizes. Supposedly it should produce lemons this year ... I can't wait!

When life gives you lemons, by all means, eat them!

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