There are so many things to celebrate in the summer, not the least of which is a bountiful summer vegetable crop. Many of you, like me, scour the farmer’s markets for beautiful local produce. I have my cooking methods for squash, eggplant and chard but when it comes to lettuce, arugula, herbs, radishes and tomatoes, I like to keep it simple with a lovely vinaigrette.
Fresh, homegrown lettuce actually has real flavor, unlike the chlorine washed junk from the store. So celebrate that with a homemade dressing, not a preservative filled bottle dressing from the store. Once you start making your own dressing, you won’t go back! It’s too easy to make something that tastes significantly better.
Typically when I cook, I don’t like to use a recipe so it crucial to understand basic components and what various herbs and spices do. When it comes to vinaigrette, the basics are 1 part acid and 3-4 parts oil. Acids could be vinegar but also any citrus or even juice from pickled vegetables. That opens up a world of combinations. Don’t even measure, just eyeball it all in an empty mason jar and shake.
For something simple, maybe use one part champagne vinegar and 3 parts olive oil, salt and pepper and an herb like fresh, chopped oregano or parsley. If you want an Asian inspired salad, try using rice wine vinegar, peanut oil, soy sauce in place of salt and add flavorings like scallions and ginger. Fancy a salad with Latin flavors? Use mild, pickled, jalapeno juice in place of the vinegar and salt, lime juice too, add avocado or walnut oil, then flavor with cumin and finely minced onion and cilantro.
Should you add sweetness? My vote is frequently yes, but just a dash. I add a little raw sugar to my basic vinaigrette. For the Asian variation, honey would be a good match. You get the idea! To make your vinaigrette a creamy version, just add a little mayo and voila!
At any given moment, my family usually has one or two jars of dressing in the fridge. It lasts about a week and it’s ready to go when you are. Let your kids help too! Remember how much you loved to make potions when you were a kid? Dressings are just grown up potions you can eat. Plus you’re arming your kids with more skills to eat healthier food as they grow up.
Things that are almost never wrong in any dressing:
Citrus of any kind - lemon, lime, orange
Mildly flavored oils
Champagne or wine vinegar (Katz is my favorite!)
Very finely minced shallot, onion, scallions or garlic
Fresh Herbs - basil, oregano, parsley, chives, cilantro
Dried herbs - parsley, others need to sit and soften in the liquid a while
Sweeteners - sugar, raw sugar, honey, agave
Spices - cumin, paprika, chili powder, turmeric, cayenne pepper, garlic or onion powder
Salt and pepper
Need more inspiration? Try these links!
Check out this link if you’re a big fan of Heartburn, like me!
My bonus advice — never ever buy ranch either, just mix mayo, milk or buttermilk, garlic powder, lots of dried parsley and dill, S&P. That simple and probably all of it is already in your fridge and pantry. Of course, it’s even better with fresh ingredients. Enjoy!