Dressing for dinner: Fresh, homemade salad dressing is just a shake away

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters
RUTLAND BITES

If there’s just one thing you can do to improve your cooking this summer as fresh produce comes to the forefront of our meals, it’s to start making your own salad dressing. Technically, that’s not even cooking. It’s only a little mixing. Before you roll your eyes and sigh at the thought of having to do one more thing in the kitchen when you can simply buy a prepared version of the same thing, let’s think this through.

At some point in time, we flipped the way we perceive food. Speaking from experience, I can say that many people consider it an extravagance to prepare a basic item, such as salad dressing, compared to buying it. I can either take five minutes, use ingredients I probably already have and end up with a better result, or I can go out to the store, spend additional money and purchase something inferior. Sadly, we’ve been trained to buy more when it’s often simpler and cheaper to make more. We’ve been duped.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox, refrain from trying to deconstruct years of dishonest marketing campaigns (there is no magical hidden valley, folks) and hope you’ll just take my word for it. In the past, I’ve written about making your own condiments, such as ketchup, mustard and mayo. Honestly, I only make those on occasion. On the other hand, I haven’t bought a bottle of dressing in years. Most of the dressings I make take between five and ten minutes to put together, if that. I can also customize them to my preference, type of salad or theme of a meal. Whether you even cook that much, this is something we can all accomplish. No special skills required.

Most of the dressings that we make in our house are oil-and-vinegar based, otherwise known as vinaigrettes. I most often use olive oil, although sunflower, grapeseed, sesame and specialty oils such as pumpkin seed or walnut oil work just as well. I tend to rely on what I already have or keep on hand. As for the vinegar, aside from plain white vinegar — which is better for cleaning than cooking — apple cider, balsamic, red or white wine, and rice wine vinegar are all good options. Citrus juices are an alternative to vinegar. The key is the acidity.

Whatever you choose, you can’t stray too far off course. Alternatively, look at some of those bottles of dressing next time you’re in the store. Why are the ingredient lists so long? Why can’t I even identify the ingredients? Let’s face it, they’re cheaply made and include strange additives to improve the taste and keep them shelf stable.

The commonly suggested ratio of oil to vinegar in a vinaigrette recipe is three parts oil to one part vinegar. If you’re making about a cup of dressing, that’s ¾ cup oil to ¼ cup vinegar. Personally, I find that ratio too oily. I make mine with either two parts oil to one part vinegar, or even one to one. For a cup of dressing, I recommend starting with 2/3 cup oil to 1/3 cup vinegar and adjusting from there based on your preference.

The thing about oil and vinegar is that they don’t mix. That’s why we need to add something to make them bind together. This ingredient is referred to as an emulsifier. Mustard, mayo, egg yolks, honey and tomato paste are all examples of emulsifiers. Without them, if you were just using oil and vinegar, the oil would cling to the vegetables and the vinegar would pool at the bottom of your bowl. It also wouldn’t taste like much. I typically use a couple of teaspoons of mustard, as I always have a bottle of mustard in my fridge.

Oil, vinegar (or other acid) and an emulsifier are the base of any vinaigrette. The easiest way to mix them all together is to throw them in a jar, put a lid on it and shake. From there, you can season the dressing as you like. Salt is always important for flavoring, but chopped garlic, shallots, ginger and fresh or dried herbs are all examples of wonderful additions. If you’re looking for a sweeter dressing, add maple syrup or honey. A creamy dressing could include a few spoonfuls of yogurt or buttermilk. Once you realize how simple it is to make your own dressing, there is no limit to the possibilities.

Here are a few examples to get you going. I prefer to make smaller batches of dressing, about one cup at a time, and store any leftovers in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Maple balsamic dressing

Makes about 1 cup

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, minced (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients into a pint-sized jar. Cover and shake until well combined.

Lemon ginger dressing

Makes about 1 cup

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

2 teaspoons fresh mint leaves, chopped (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients into a pint-sized jar. Cover and shake until well combined.

Honey mustard dressing

Makes about 1 cup

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons honey

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients into a pint-sized jar. Cover and shake until well combined.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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