Thursday, April 8, 2010

Workshop Vinaigrette

WooHoo! Salad Season!

It's getting to be salad season, so let's talk about salad dressings, shall we? While I like many of the 'healthy' dressings on the market today, I don't usually love them. Annie's salad dressings are a decent quick fix and I absolutely LOVE Galeo's Miso Caesar dressing, but those are really the exceptions. Maybe an occasional Paul Newman vinaigrette, but really Annie and Paul use some unhealthy and unnecessary ingredients, too. We can do better.

my favorite things

I prefer to whip up dressings on my own most of the time. (gasp!?!) 'Why would you ever do that?', you may ask. I like kitchen shortcuts as much as the next, but the truth is, once you start doing it, you can't go back. Fresh dressings are so much better than even expensive and gourmet bottled dressings. Read the ingredients on a Seven Seas or Wishbone dressing. It's really nasty stuff. Why are you bothering to even eat a salad if you are consuming all that corn syrup and refined soybean oil? It's tempting to have a soda and some onion rings and forget the salad altogether.

While it may seem like way too much trouble to make your own, it really and truly is worth it. Plus, you can adjust seasonings, herbs, sweetness, and oil content according to the type of salad you are dressing.There is a basic technique involved in a classic vinaigrette which I will go over below. Once you get the hang of that, you can add herbs, pureed fruit or veggies, substitute nut oils, and make just about any any other adjustments you can think of and always know what is in your food.

I like to make a decent-sized batch and use it all week, but you may like to try a new one each day, if you're feeling creative.

Classic Vinaigrette

The ingredients in classic vinaigrette are just what you would expect.

1/4 cup wine vinegar (acid)
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard (emulsifier)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Place a mixing bowl to sit on a damp, folded towel or paper towel so it won't move around if you continuously whisk. (Some bowls have rubber bottoms and you don't need to do this step.)

2. Combine vinegar, mustard in the bowl, whisking together with your right hand if you're right-handed. Season with some salt and pepper.

3. Continue whisking with your right hand. With your left hand, drizzle in pre-measured oil slowly while whisking. As dressing emulsifies, continue until you have used all the oil.

4. Taste for seasoning with a bit of whatever salad the vinaigrette is for (lettuce, tomato, etc.) by giving it a quick dip and a taste. Serve room temperature. Divine.

I rarely do this very basic vinaigrette because I find way too many enticing things to toss in while I'm whisking. I almost always add about 1/4 tsp finely minced garlic and a tsp of honey or agave nectar. Fresh herbs, dried herbs, lemon zest, fresh orange juice, fresh lemon juice, soy sauce, honey mustard, whole grain mustard, rice vinegar, pureed roasted peppers, buttermilk, yogurt, cheese, scallions, parsley...see where I'm going with this?

When you add or substitute, just make sure the seasonings are whisked together initially, then the oil is drizzled in. Make sure there is always a bit of mustard to emulsify/combine the oil with the vinegar.

Last week I was on a lemon zest vinaigrette kick. I used about 1/2 tsp fine lemon zest and replaced the vinegar with lemon juice, adding only a splash of vinegar. I made it pretty sweet, using about 2 tsp agave nectar. It was served on baby arugula with raspberries and pine nuts. You wouldn't believe how addictive this is!! It is so good and perfect for springtime.

So this is your inspiration and now the rest is up to you. Go forward, salad lovers. Reduce that balsamic, zest that citrus, and dig through that spice cabinet. Be sure to post your creations!


lori m. said...

YUM! I LOVE your blog...makes me wish I lived under your kitchen table. Everything just looks so delicious!

Catherine Barker Hoffman said...

Thanks!! Glad you like-y. It is scary under my kitchen table, though.