Secret of Great Salad Dressing


salad-dressing_cThe difference between a good salad and a great salad lies with the dressing. It can make, or break, the entire experience. Think about the salads you have eaten and what's made them memorable. I'd bet it had something to do with how it was dressed. Thinking back, I'm not sure I make the exact salad dressing twice. I get close, but because my salad ingredients change and nothing is written down, it's always just a little different than the last time I made it. But I'm not sure that's what you wanted to hear.

By Ellen Sorrin

Everything in the salad dressing is important. A good tasting oil, a flavorful vinegar and a balanced mix of herbs, spices and other ingredients all make for a stellar dressing.

The basic balance between the oil and vinegar in a raw salad of the usual ingredients - lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, celery, sweet peppers - is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. To that can be added Dijon mustard, dried herbs such as thyme or tarragon, black pepper, a little salt (if you must), and a touch of maple syrup. As for the measurements, if you are making a salad for 2 people, use 6 T. oil, 2 T. vinegar, ½ t. Dijon mustard or dry mustard, ½ t. dried herb, ¼ t. freshly-ground black pepper, a pinch of salt and ½ t. maple syrup. Place in a jar and shake vigorously until well blended. Coat the salad greens lightly as a little dressing goes a long way. You will have some dressing left over which you can keep adding to, even making some additions the next time.

Of course, that's just the beginning. If avocado is added to your salad, then you might consider adding a tablespoon of fresh lime juice to replace one tablespoon of vinegar. I also like to throw in a tablespoon or so of pine nuts and maybe a couple of tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese. Sometimes I crave garlic in the dressing, so I'll mince or press a clove in to wonderful effect. You want the dressing to be pleasing to the palate when you taste it, which means a balance between the oil and vinegar.

I'm a big fan of dried fruit in my salads - tart cherries, cranberries, or golden raisins; and nuts - walnuts, pine nuts, or slivered almonds. If I want my salad to be dinner, I'll add steamed vegetables like asparagus, string beans or broccoli and maybe a hard boiled egg or two.

A word or two about oils and vinegars. There are countless kinds on the shelves these days. Some vinegars and flavored and oils infused. They all have something to offer and cost is one of them. People give us these more exotic oils and vinegars as gifts and I am always happy to receive them. In my kitchen, the foundations of my dressings are reasonably-priced olive oil and a wine or balsamic vinegar. They will serve you well.

In the end, I have one little decadent addition - truffle infused oil - which I buy in very small bottles as it lasts a long time and you don't want it to go bad. It doesn't take much to make a difference in the flavor of the salad dressing. Just a few drops does it. And it won't break the bank, even in these hard times.

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