Saturday, January 8, 2011

Easier than you thought: Salad Dressing

Used to be that if I wanted salad dressing, I'd go to the grocery store and see what the options were. That's where salad dressing came from after all, isn't it? That is, until I met B.

My boyfriend, whom I shall refer to as B, comes from a large Quebecois family. His mother and grandmother were in charge of feeding every one, often on a tight budget, so a lot of what I've learned over the past few years has been from them. One of the most basic, but oddly liberating, things is how to make salad dressing.

In all honesty it's a terribly easy thing to make, yet as the majority of North Americans, I didn't really think about it much further than grabbing a bottle of Kraft off the shelf at the store. Once I tried homemade dressing, that changed right quick. I still sometimes give in to the urge for something store-bought, but mainly I work with variations of the following:

Basic Vinagrette
1 part acid (balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, etc)
3 parts fat (olive oil, bacon drippings, etc)
Dijon mustard (I start with a teaspoon and add more to taste)
seasonings to taste (salt, pepper, herbs, etc)
optional: sweetener (sugar, maple syrup, honey, etc)

While you can put the above in a bowl and whisk to combine, I prefer to simply put it in a 250 ml canning jar, screw the lid on and give it a good shake. This way it is mixed and ready to go in the same vessel I can serve and store it in. No extra dishes necessary, which is no small thing when you're working with oil! You can also use a food processor or a blender to get a really good emulsion going, however I find the more 'rustic' method just as good, unless I'm trying to be really fancy about it. The sugar, while optional, is one of the most overlooked ingredients in a dressing. Even just a touch can help to balance out the acid and give it a rounder, more satisfying flavor. It is especially helpful when you're dealing with more subtle seasonings or herbs that might be overpowered by the vinegar otherwise.

This recipe gives you a basis for almost endless variations. The other night I used a dab of green mustard (dijon aux herbes by Maille) and a bit of leftover cilantro and it gave a bright green dressing that was the tastiest I've had in a while. If nothing else, it's good motivation to work more veggies into your diet!

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