Beginners Guide to Homemade Salad Dressing

Learn to make your own salad dressingConsider this an intervention. Those of you still buying bottles of Paul Newman's or Annie's or worst yet, Wish Bone salad dressings at the grocery store - it's over. I'm sorry but it's over. Additives? Corn Syrup? Xanthan Gum? That's not who you are.

You are someone with exquisite taste who appreciates and understands quality. And, you're about to become someone who confidently knows how to dress their own salad. Do not underestimate how important this is. I want you to experience real pleasure and satisfaction when you sit down to eat. The days of settling for mediocrity are over. Now, let's get down to business.

Buy the best ingredients you can afford

Every time you use quality ingredients, your food is going to taste better. Period. You can buy the inexpensive extra virgin olive oils at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and use them to cook with, that's fine. But if you are buying the freshest, best tasting produce for your salads at your local farmers' market, I want to suggest that you spend more money for high quality oils and vinegars. Ones that you use only for drizzling over foods and making into vinaigrettes, not heating.

Ratios of oil to vinegar

The traditional ratio for vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part vinegar. This ratio doesn't really work for me. I enjoy a brighter flavor. The ratio for my palate is almost equal parts oil to vinegar. To find the right acidity level for you, simply taste the dressing as you're adding the oil and stop or add more to your liking. Know that if it's too acidic, you can simply add more oil to balance it out. You are the master of your dressing domain.

The quick drizzle method

Some days, I don't feel like making a full-on vinaigrette; I want super quick results. So here's what I do: Take the bottle of olive oil, cover the spout part ways with your finger and slowly drizzle lightly over your salad. Do the same with the vinegar, sprinkle some good sea salt, fresh ground pepper, gently toss with your hands and you're done. It's might seem like a crap shoot but it works. If you're unsure, start by adding less versus more because you can always add but you can't take away.

The authentic vinaigrette method

Grab a clean, empty jar with a lid. Add your minced garlic or shallots in the jar with your acid (i.e.vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, verjus, yuzu, etc.) and your salt. The acid will help mellow the sharpness of the garlic and shallot, deepen the flavors and also help "melt" the salt. Salt doesn't melt well in oil. Let it sit for a few minutes - say 5 to 10. Then add your oil, screw the lid on tight and shake like mad. You can also make the dressing in a bowl and whisk the oil in slowly. You want to make sure it's emulsified. Do not make dressing in a metallic bowl unless it is stainless steel. Your acid will be altered in flavor and not in a good way.

Salad making tips

Mix your salad in a large wooden bowl with a pair of forks or salad servers for an even coat of the dressing. Don't over dress your salad. Start with a little and add slowly.

Salad making tips

As for sourcing, I use my own garden. Most people probably don't know that you need fairly little soil - just a two inch even layer of moist soil - and you can just throw lettuce seeds on top, no rows or planting - to have an awesome patch of lettuce. And I use lots of my own sprouts and microgreens, like sunflower and radish in my salads at home. HERBS, fine herbs, tarragon, chervil, parsley and chive, make an awesome addition of flavor on top of any salad. And, I keep it simple: lettuces, sprouts, bright herbs, a touch oil, touch vin, a little lemon or citrus zest - Grapefruit is awesome if it's hot and you're outside drinking sauvignon blanc - and finally salt and pepper. I like to play with peppers. I use a five pepper blend. One of my many favorite kitchen tools is the juicer. How that works for salads? Juice the greens, season with salt, and pour the juice onto a lined sheet tray and freeze. After it's frozen, drag a fork along in rows to make granita, mist with a little sherry vinegar and serve as a palate cleanser for a summer barbeque!

- Alisa Barry, Creator/Owner at Bella Cucina


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