As spring arrives, my desire for salad increases, sometimes to the point of obsession. Often I don’t prepare dressing and simply drizzle olive oil on the salad, followed by a bit of balsamic vinegar, topped with a tad of good sea or Kosher salt and a twist or 2 of freshly ground pepper.
When I do make dressing, it’s likely to be vinaigrette. Homemade vinaigrette is a pleasure, and useful as a base for other dressings as well as for marinades. Last year, I wrote about how to make vinaigrette. Now I’ve got tips to help take your dressing up a notch, along with a version that I love.
- Use good ingredients. You know this, but it bears repeating. If you use poor quality ingredients your salad dressing will taste like it. The benefit of homemade food is that you control what goes into it, so take advantage of that. Smell and taste the oil and the vinegar you’ll use before adding them. Using prepared mustard or herbs? Check them out too. If the ingredients please your palate., you’re more likely to love the final result.
- Have a salad dressing “vision.” Sure it’s fun to let your inner mad scientist out when making vinaigrette. But plan the dressing for the salad you’ll use it on or with. If it’s going on a “regular” tossed salad with vegetables, then you could add almost anything to the vinaigrette. On the other hand, a Middle Eastern salad with olives and feta probably does better with lemon and dill than with balsamic vinegar and bacon.
- Taste as you add and adjust. The standard oil to vinegar ratio is 3-to-1, but typically I begin with less oil (more like 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar) and taste as I add more until I get the right balance for the particular oil and vinegars I am using.
- Get creative with add-ins. Fresh herbs are nice if you have them and often brighter flavored than dried. Remember that you will generally need about 3 times as much fresh as dried. (If you’re using dried, do check to make sure they aren’t so old that they have lost all their fragrance and taste.) Try dry roasted and ground spices such as cumin seeds for a truly special and intense flavor. How about capers, mashed or cut into tiny pieces?
- Whisk, shake, or blend. Traditionally, vinaigrette is made by putting together the vinegar and flavorings, then whisking in the oil in a slow, steady stream to combine it with the vinegar. While this method works fine, I usually go the faster route – putting all the ingredients in a jar with a lid, closing it tightly and shaking it. You can also use a blender. Whichever method you choose, adding a touch of herbs or a small amount of dry or prepared mustard helps keep the oil and vinegar from separating.
Here’s one of my favorite combinations. The secret to this dressing is the mixture of lemon and unseasoned rice wine vinegar. The exact ratio of oil to lemon and vinegar and the amounts of herbs are my taste – feel free to tinker as your taste buds and salad dictate.
Lemon Mustard Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
Servings – about 3 ounces Cost – $.50
- ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Dijon (sharp French) mustard
- ½ – 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot
- 1½ teaspoons fresh dill or thyme or ½ teaspoon dried dill or thyme
- ⅛ teaspoon Kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
- Cutting board
- Jar with tight fitting top
- Measuring spoons
- Measure all the ingredients into the jar
- Shake until well mixed, preferably with dance music playing in the background.