Learn to make your own vinaigrette salad dressing. Vinaigrette is a mixture of vinegar and oil with an herb/spice flavoring. The oil is slowly added to the vinegar until it emulsifies into a smooth sauce. Often an emulsifier is added to keep the dressing from separating.
One of the key things to remember is the oil to acid ratio. Acid examples are vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, ... Most agree the ideal ratio is 3 parts oil to 1 part acid as exemplified in the basic vinaigrette recipe.
- 3/4 cup oil (try extra virgin olive, vegetable, or flavored oils)
- 1/4 cup vinegar (try red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, or cider vinegar)
- 1 tsp fresh minced garlic
- Herbs and spices
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste. Use freshly ground pepper.
Flavorful oils, such as extra virgin olive oil can be used or neutral oils such as
vegetable oil or canola oil is ok. Try walnut or avocado oil.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. Cold pressed Tuscan or Umbrian EVOO, made from 100% Italian olives provide a simple, delicious, but not overpowering taste.
Do not use distilled white vinegar; use white wine vinegar. Also specialty vinegars such as balsamic, raspberry, or sherry are good. Cider vinegar, made from apples, are good. Rice vinegar, made from fermented rice, is interesting. Spice infused vinegars are interesting, too.
Lemon juice is a common additive to vinaigrette dressings. So is lime and orange juice (because of their high acidic content). A juice complements the vinegar, not replaces it.
Minced onion, garlic, shallots, worchestershire sauce, and honey are other common additions. Honey is especially nice because it is also an emulsifier.
Since oil and vinegar do not mix, they will separate after a while, depending on if there is an emulsifier in the dressing. An emulsifier holds together the vinegar and oil. Mustard, egg yolk, honey, and mayonnaise are common emulsifiers.
Typically, all the ingredients except the oil, are mixed together in a blender and the oil is added a little bit at a time while the blender is running on slow. I prefer to mix everything in a bottle then shake vigorously.
Use 3/4 cup vegetable broth or juice in place of the oil. In a cold sauce pan combine the vegetable broth with 1 T cornstarch. Add the liquid slowly and then when combined, cook on medium heat until thick, about 4 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and then add the vinegar and remaining herbs and spices. Use immediately. Keep refrigerated. If dressing gets thick simply add a little more vegetable broth to thin.
Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before mixing. Cool oil is harder to emulsifiy. Use a nonreactive mixing bowl; stainless steel or glass is fine. I use a glass jar and shake vigorously to combine. Let it sit for a few hours at room temperature so the flavors meld. If you store the dressing for a few days, use the refrigerator.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs are the aromatic leaves, flowers and stems of plants.
Fresh or dry work.
Spices are seeds and bark. They will need to be ground or grated. If you don't have a spice mill (not many do...then just buy the pre-ground and be sure it's fresh). If the herb smells like the spice or herb then the stuff inside is still full of flavor.
These flavors work well together.
Herbs: basil, rosemary, thyme, flat leaf parsley, marjoram.
Spices: fennel, caraway, crushed red pepper, celery seed.
Salad additives: Olives, roasted peppers, citrus zest, capers. Hard cheeses like Parmesan, asiago.
Herbs: dill, oregano, rosemary, mint, parsley.
Spices: fennel, anise, black pepper, dill seed.
Salad additives: Feta cheese, cured meats like pepperoni, olives, capers.
Herbs: cilantro, mint, lemon grass, sesame oil (use 2 tsp in place of some of the oil).
Spices: cumin, chile paste, curry paste, fennel, ginger.
Salad additives: soy sauce,hoisin sauce, citrus zest, peanuts or cashews.
Herbs: cilantro, oregano, thyme.
Spices: cumin, coriander, chile pods, black pepper, allspice.
Salad additives: roasted corn, green onions, radish, black olives.
The oil and vinegar ratio is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Vinaigrettes range from 2 to 4, depending on your tastes and vinegar strength. Most consider 3:1 to be optimal.
Use good olive oil; extra virgin olive oil works best.
Do not drown the salad with dressing; it is a compliment, not a main course.
Make sure the lettuce is dry so the dressing clings to it instead of runs off.