Years ago, salad usually meant a bowl of mixed greens and a drizzle of store-bought dressing. Since I’ve discovered how ludicrously easy, quick, inexpensive and (I almost forgot) delicious it is to make my own dressings and vinaigrettes, salads have often moved to center-stage in our meals. It’s fun to try new combinations of ingredients and to invent a dressing that will complement them.
DIY dressing takes no more than 2 minutes and it requires no special equipment. All you need to know are the 5 elements of any simple vinaigrette or creamy dressing:
- Oil: Start with a good quality extra virgin olive oil or other neutral-tasting oil like grapeseed. Many recipes use an oil to acid ratio of 3:1 but I find that to be way too much oil and prefer either 2:1 or an equal mix. If you want that extra gourmet flavour, add a little walnut or sesame oil to your mix.
- Acid: Add a vinegar of your choice, such as red wine, white wine, apple cider, or balsamic. I also like the citrus champagne vinegar you can find in the deli sections of supermarkets or in specialty stores. Sherry vinegar is another alternative. I use Capirette. I often supplement a vinegar with a bit of freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.
- Sweetness: Sometimes you need to temper the acid with a bit of sweetness. You can always use refined sugar, but trying maple syrup, honey, or even fruit jams will add more interesting flavour.
- Salt: Not a lot. The advantage of making your own dressings is that you can control the amount of sodium in your finished product.
- Aromatics: Here’s where you get to be really creative and think about flavours that complement each other. Try fresh herbs, garlic, lemon or lime zest, finely chopped shallots, black or chili pepper.To make a creamy dressing, substitute mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk or Greek yogurt (or any of the low-fat versions of these) for some of the oil.
Simply combine and shake in a small mason jar, or whisk in a measuring cup, or whir in a small blender or food processor. Store leftover dressings in the refrigerator.
Consider different toppings that will marry well with the greens and vegetables you have chosen:
- crumbled cheese (feta, blue, gorgonzola, parmesan, etc.)
- toasted nuts (walnuts, pecans, sliced almonds, pistachios)
- candied nuts (pecans, walnuts) or raw or toasted seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
- dried fruits (cranberries, raisins, cherries, apricots)
- fresh fruits (berries, diced apple, sliced peaches, nectarines, mango, cherries. . . anything!)
- salted meats (crumbled bacon, crispy prosciutto or pancetta)
- croutons or crumbled tortilla chips