Almost, not quite, but any day now, it will be salad season! Tender spring greens are soon to appear. The weather's turning warm and so we make our annual return to lighter, fresher and 'greener' food. So here's my challenge to readers of A Veggie Venture and to salad lovers from all over: Never Buy Salad Dressing Again.
I'm here to help. Cookbooks and cooking magazines often suggest ingredients for a well-stocked pantry. But how many of us fill our pantries, then forget to empty them?! And we shouldn't: 'cooking from the pantry' is the best way to save money on groceries -- at the same time avoiding the calories, additives, waste and inconvenience of carry-out, drive-through and frozen food.
So let's stock our pantries with purpose -- just for salad dressings. And then -- this is the best part -- we can learn to love the deliciousness of simple homemade salad dressings, some of us for the first time, some of us all over again. With any luck, you'll challenge yourself to make a salad every single day, for a week, for a month, for the summer, but every day. Let's get started.
~ Pantry Basics for Salad Dressing ~
~ A Well-Stocked Pantry for Salad Dressing ~
~ Tools ~
~ Classic Salad Dressing Recipes ~
KNOW YOUR STYLE!Are you a make-it-on-the-fly salad dressing maker? Or one who wants to make a 'batch' and then use it for a week? Different recipes will appeal to these two camps so it pays to know. Don't worry, both are good and many salad-makers (me included) do both.
'Dress a Salad' Here, we make a dressing for an individual salad, whisking and tasting and adapting the dressing's ingredients for particular greens, for particular add-ons. Quantities can be adjusted to make a salad serving one or a large salad for the table.
'Make Salad Dressing' Here, we 'make salad dressing', usually a bigger batch that will last a few days or even a week or more. Quantities can be adjusted here, too, for smaller volumes.
PANTRY BASICSJust a few pantry items. These are the only ingredients needed for beginners but also the ingredients used by experienced salad makers again and again.
Olive Oil - Preferably of high quality but perfectly good salad dressings are made with inexpensive olive oil too. If you do invest in a bottle of good olive oil for salad dressings, watch for bottles with dark glass and labels that read 'extra-virgin' and 'first cold press'. It's used in small amounts so it's just fine to buy a small bottle to minimize the up-front expense. Once home, do a taste test. Dip your finger in, does it taste good? smooth? lack harshness? Keep a bottle of good olive oil separate from the cooking oils, we don't want to waste the good stuff. Store it in a cool dark spot, behind a cupboard door, for example, rather than out in the light or near a stove's heat source.
Vinegar - Plain white vinegar or apple cider vinegar will do but may require more doctoring. If you buy just one vinegar for salad dressing, buy unseasoned rice wine vinegar which is far less harsh and is quite inexpensive.
Salt - Sea salt or kosher salt, preferably. If need be, table salt will do just fine.
Mustard - Anything other than yellow mustard of hot-dog fame. Start with Dijon mustard, a classic.
A WELL-STOCKED PANTRYAdd one or two of these extra pantry items at a time. Keep one or two of the fresh items on hand at a time.
Other Vinegars - Basics include red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar (my personal favorite) and champagne vinegar. When you open a bottle, taste the vinegar - it will be sharp, yes, but do you like how it tastes? If so, it'll make a great salad dressing.
Variety of Oils - Options include walnut oil, avocado oil, pumpkin seed oil, grapeseed oil and more. These tend to be expensive and have short shelf lives so buy in small volume and use quickly.
Dried Herbs - Especially useful for make-ahead dressings.
Fresh Garlic - A clove or two of garlic does wonders for salad dressing.
Dairy Products - Low-fat buttermilk, cream and milk are common ingredients in creamy salad dressings.
Fresh Lemons - Can be used as the 'acid' in a salad dressing, replacing the vinegar.
Fresh Herbs - Salad dressing is the #1 reason to plant a few herbs in pots on the patio or balcony. Good choices are chive, French tarragon, basil, thyme and oregano. But otherwise, buy one packet at a time from the supermarket to experiment with what you like.
TOOLSNo special tools required!
Salad Bowl I love my low, wide wooden walnut salad bowl that somehow manages to feed from one to eight. But any bowl will do, just keep it handy.
Knife & Cutting Board For quickly chopping garlic and fresh herbs.
Fork This is all that's needed to 'whisk' the dressing.
Small Food Processor For dressings that need real mixing, the food processor attachment of an immersion blender works great. Some dressings become airy and ethereal when 'emulsified' - that's the term for combining two ingredients that don't necessarily want to be combined (think oil and water), usually done by slowly adding the oil while vigorously mixing the rest -- that's best done in a large food processor or blender with an open top.
Glass bottles After emptying any salad dressing bottles already on hand (what, down the drain? who thinks I'd suggest such?!) save them for storing make-ahead dressings.
CLASSIC SALAD DRESSING RECIPESEasy! Just hover your mouse above an interesting recipe to display the ingredients needed (past the four basics of olive oil, vinegar, salt and mustard). New recipes added as I find them.
For DRESSING a SALAD
Mostly, we 'dress salads' with a vinaigrette [vihn-uh-GREHT], a classic oil and vinegar combination with a 3:1 mix of oil:vinegar. To my taste, this is too rich so I reverse the proportions. Learn the proportion you and your family likes, it'll work again and again.
For anyone who's not 'dressed a salad' before, my photo tutorial for how to make a simple vinaigrette will be helpful.
For MAKING SALAD DRESSING
READER RECIPES Does your family have a 'house dressing'? If you're willing to share a favorite salad dressing recipe, please, I'd love an e-mail!
Who Is Up for the Challenge? Never Buy Salad Dressing Again!
~ more recipes for 'green salads' ~
~ more salad dressing recipes ~
~ more recipes for 'vegetable salads' ~
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