I was going to do one article comprising how to make both salads and dressings until a reader graciously pointed out that the bit would be too long (see, I listen). Since no one's really interested in eating an undressed salad unless they feel obliged due to a ridiculous diet brought on by vanity or paranoia about the so-called obesity crisis, I opted to present you with this, an article devoted to the best part of the salad: the dressing!
A salad without dressing is just a bunch of veggies and other things tossed in a bowl. Dressings help to bring all these elements together by both flavoring them and binding them. Some will argue that dressings can be used as marinades, which is often true, and some companies will even advertise both uses on the bottle. There are lots of dressings out there in hundreds of exotic flavors, from your garden variety tangy Italian or sweet French dressing, to the Asian sesame vinaigrette. Though there are tons of flavorings you can put in a dressing, you really only need an oil and an acid, which anyone can find lying around their kitchen. It therefore never ceases to amaze me that people are willing to shell out between 2 and 7 dollars for a bottle of what you can easily and cheaply make at home in about 3 minutes!
Here's how you do it
1 Oil of Choice - Extra Virgin Olive Oil is ideal, but you could use Vegetable Oil instead - if you want to add an Asian touch, you could add a drop of sesame oil to the Olive or Vegetable oil - this is optional. Once only available in Asian markets, as Asian food becomes more and more popular you can now find this product in the Asian section of major grocery stores. See the image below to know what to look for. If you decide to use this oil, use only a little, say no more than an 1/8 of a teaspoon, as the flavor of sesame oil is very strong and too much will overpower your dressing.
1 Acid of Choice - Try a vinegar such as plain white, balsamic, apple cider, white wine, red wine, or rice wine vinegar. You could also use lemon or lime juice!
1 Sweetener - Optional - Honey, Maple Syrup, Pancake Syrup (cheaper stepbrother of maple syrup), Corn Syrup, Agave nectar, jam or marmalade - I prefer a liquid sweetener to a solid one like plain sugar, as I find it mixes better.
1 Thickener - Optional - Dijon Mustard, Grainy Mustard, Peanut Butter, or even Mayonnaise or Jarred Salad Dressing i.e. Miracle Whip (experts will even use fresh, beaten eggs or egg yolks, but I wouldn't advise trying this if you're a rookie) - If you want something that does double duty as a sweetener and thickener, use jam or marmalade. If you want something that does double duty as an herby flavor and a thickener, pesto is the way to go. For something spicier, try wasabi paste (often available in the Asian and fish sections of major grocery stores).
1 Spicy element - Optional - Hot Sauce of Choice, chili flakes, one crushed or chopped dried or fresh chili, with or without seeds (the seeds, or rather, the membrane attached to them will make the dressing even spicier), or Wasabi Paste or Powder, sometimes available in the fish section of grocery stores, and in most Asian markets - See the image below.
Salt or Soy Sauce - These are not usually interchangeable, but if you use the Soya Sauce, go easy on the salt, as soy sauce has tons.
Pepper - to taste
1 Piece aka clove of Garlic - crushed - Optional
1 Fresh or Dried Herb of choice - Optional - Basil or Oregano will work well, as well as Dill, Coriander aka Cilantro, or Mint, fresh or dried (if you use fresh herbs, be sure to wash them, dry them by shaking them out or pressing them carefully with a paper towel, and chopping them up as finely as you can), but you could use a store bought Italian or French (i.e. Herbes de Provence) dried herb blend, or even jarred, bagged or fresh pesto.
1 Jar or bottle with a tight fitting lid - you can use any jar - you can get 'em in the dollar store for a buck or two or re-use a jam or mayonnaise jar or an empty water or soda bottle, just be sure to clean these things first.
Measuring spoons - You'll need these at first, but eventually you'll figure out the correct proportions according to what your tastes are.
I've read different versions of what the ratios of the ingredients above should be, but the only one that really matters is the ratio of oil to acid. Some experts say the correct ratio is three parts oil to one part acid. Others say it's two parts. I prefer the 2 to 1 ratio as I find the former dulls the flavor of the dressing too much, but at the end of the day, it's really up to you.
Put 1 part acid of choice in your jar and measure out two parts oil in the same jar. If you're cooking for 1 or 2 people, start with 1 tablespoon of your acid, and 2 tablespoons of your oil. See the image below.
You can now shake it up, or add the other optional ingredients.
To start (I say "to start" because everyone's tastes are different and you may need to adjust these ingredients according to your own personal taste) add 1/2 a teaspoon of your sweetener, 1 teaspoon of your thickener, a 1/4 teaspoon of your herbs and spicy element, and if using, 1 smashed clove of garlic (garlic is fairly strong, so no matter how much dressing you're making, one clove will usually do the job).
Add some salt or soy sauce (if using) and pepper.
Close the jar tightly, and shake it vigorously for about 30 seconds or until the oil and acid have combined.
Taste it, and if you don't like it, adjust it by adding more thickener, sweetener, herb, spicy element, or salt and pepper.
You're now ready to pour it over your salad and toss everything to coat!
Stay tuned for next time when I'll be tackling your basic salad!
-Samantha R. Gold
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