Monday, January 21, 2013

Vinaigrette 101, or Salad Dressing for dummies

Do you wish you could cook better? Do you wish you were eating more freshly made food? For a simple way to start making your food from scratch, try making homemade vinaigrette. It’s easy to do and better for your health. I started experimenting with years ago. It’s such a simple yet very satisfying thing to make. This vinaigrette is both vegetarian and vegan.

And it’s very impressive to friends and family. You can turn an average salad into a gourmet salad with the flick of a finger (with some simple guidelines in your head). Once you have the basic ingredients in your fridge and pantry, it’s a snap to do anytime. AND, you can make a bigger batch and store it in the fridge for future salads (I recommend storing your vinaigrette in glass containers-- canning jars work great).

There are two basic ways to dress your salad. First there is vinaigrette dressing which is; oil and vinegar based; or a creamy dressing that is usually mayonnaise based. Creamy dressings sometimes use sour cream, yogurt or buttermilk to add creaminess as well.

For vinaigrettes, you have 3 to 2 parts oil to 1 part an acid (vinegars, citrus juices, etc), salt/pepper and then any other fun ingredients you want to add in to give it the flavor you want.

Mustards are fun to add in as well for a nice bite. They also help to emulsify the dressing. I prefer to use Dijon or coarse grain mustards. Your dressings can be sweet, sour, spicy, tart, salty, mild…anything you desire. Here is a really basic vinaigrette recipe that I started out with and I'm sure you'll truly enjoy.

Basic Vinaigrette
Vegetarian • Vegan
6 oz. extra virgin olive oil
2 oz. red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-2 teaspoons honey
1 fresh clove of garlic
3 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (optional)
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of fresh cracked black pepper

Whisk together oil, vinegar, and mustard.  Add pepper, salt and honey (Note: honey is optional, but it often adds a sweet taste and can help balance the taste of bitter greens). Chop tarragon leaves. Finely mince the garlic. Add to mixing bowl and whisk in. Gently toss with a salad or drizzle on top. Enjoy!

Once you’ve mastered that basic idea, you can experiment with using different acids and different oils mixed together. Fresh herbs (dried herbs will do in a pinch as long as you give it time to open up*), bottled sauces, fruit juices and alcoholic spirits can be then added in to enhance and sculpt the flavor you desire. 

You must take in mind not only the ingredients in the salad, but the whole meal itself. For example, a creamy blue cheese dressing might not go together so well with an Asian meal. Or a spinach salad with fresh strawberries would work well with sweeter vinaigrette. And since you can make dressings in a small quantity and they are quick to prepare, it’s easy to experiment with many different dressing ideas

*When using dried herbs in a dressing, you should put them in at the beginning of the recipe to give them time to soften up and refresh their flavor. Also, you will use a little less of the dried herbs than the fresh. The ratio for dried herbs to fresh is 1 to 3. But I strongly suggest using fresh herbs when possible.

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