la vinaigrette

Growing up, my parents served salad with every nighttime meal; and that salad was nothing more than lettuce and tomato with the occasional sliver of onion, tossed in a simple garlicky vinaigrette.   Even though I moved out what seems like eleventy billion years ago, I still eat a salad with almost every dinner.  And large mixed salads topped with grilled chicken make the dinner rotation at least once a week in my house.

A good salad dressing is so easy to make that I never bother with the bottled stuff. And by “good” dressing, I don’t mean the Catalinas, the Russians, or any of that store-bought goop.  Having said that, we do keep a bottle of blue cheese dressing handy for when we make chicken wings, but that’s another story.

Recently a friend of mine has decided to change his eating habits (hi, John Steele!) and was asking for recommendations on salad dressing. So this post is dedicated to him, and if I get all long winded, it’s all his fault.

My daily basic vinaigrette is nothing more than red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, and olive oil.   Since I like my dressings a bit more acidic than most people, I do half vinegar/half olive oil, but most people do a 1 to 4 ratio.  Start by putting a couple of tablespoons of vinegar in a small bowl, adding a couple pinches of salt, a pinch of pepper, a half teaspoon (or more) of Dijon, then mix up with a fork or a whisk. I’ve had this tiny whisk for years that I use for tasks such as this (plus it works great for taking the lumps out of any sauce), so I use that.  Then slowly add the oil, whisking, whisking, whisking, until it’s mixed in. Taste it at this point to see if you like it (does it need more vinegar? Salt? Oil?).  Covered tightly with plastic wrap or in a Tupperware-type container with a tight fitting lid, this can keep indefinitely at room temperature.  If you want to add garlic to it (which, why not?), I wouldn’t keep it more than a couple of days since garlic could make the whole thing go rancid. If you made a bunch and want to keep it long term, just add freshly grated or minced garlic directly to your salad bowl.

Variations and ideas:                       

- Use a variety of vinegars to achieve your desired taste, such as a drizzle of balsamic (which will make the dressing sweeter), or some Sherry vinegar.  If all of this is still too acidic for you, dry a touch of honey (a teaspoon or so) which makes a nice dressing as well.

- Greek (mixed greens, chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, crumbled feta, red onion slices, maybe some cooked then cooled potatoes): your dressing is as simple as olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and dried oregano.

- For a salad with fruit (like mixed greens with strawberries, blackberries, and champagne mangoes): olive oil, champagne or white wine vinegar, Dijon, honey, salt, pepper, a bit of minced shallot. You can also use a bit of the juice of an orange or grapefruit in the dressing.

- Drizzle some basic vinaigrette with garlic onto some roasted or grilled asparagus. Delicious.


Never dress a salad until ready to serve or the vedge will get mushy. The only time it is acceptable to toss a salad with dressing ahead of time is for coleslaw or pasta salad. For pasta salad, toss some dressing with the noodles while they are still warm, as they’ll soak up the dressing and really flavor each individual piece of pasta. Dress again when cool and toss with the other salad ingredients.

For those who are watching calories, most of the calories from the dressing will come from olive oil. But, as I tell people a lot, olive oil (like avocados) is a GOOD fat. However, that doesn’t mean you need to just pour it into your open mouth.   When tossing a salad, start off using less dressing than you think you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than an overdressed and soggy salad – you can always add more if need be.  Besides, more dressing = more calories. To entice your taste buds, add things with little calories but enormous flavor, such as fresh or dried herbs.


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