You bring the salad

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You bring the salad. Those words can send a shiver down the spine, especially if you don’t know the first thing about dressings or vinaigrettes. Given the number of these pre-made salads and salad coverings lining grocery shelves it can complicate your life even more. Before you run there and grab something off the shelf, consider the option of making one yourself. It isn’t as complicated as it might seem.

Back in the day a salad would have been a wedge of Iceberg drizzled with vinegar and oil, nothing else. Now that is simple indeed. But today there are hundreds of salad recipes and equally hundreds of dressings to put on them. The availability of ingredients and preservatives make this all possible. Consider the number of fresh ingredients available to you in your store now. Why pay for a pre-made salad with who knows how old lettuce, etcetera and make something fresh and full of textures and flavors. Let’s start simple; we will make vinaigrette and simple salad.

Before we do that lets look at what makes a vinaigrette dressing. Most commonly vinaigrette is an emulsion of oil and vinegar with some seasonings. The traditional ratio is one part vinegar (or acid) to three parts oil. Seasonings can vary by taste but commonly include; salt, pepper, mustard, and any number of herbs and spices. Before emulsifiers mustard was what helped bind the vinegar and oil together. Manufacturers now have products to make them shelf stable for long periods of time and keep them from separating. This is great for storing but is it really the right choice to go over a salad of fresh ingredients?

To achieve the emulsion you want at home requires a little thought and care. No it won’t last months and months in your cabinet or fridge but it will be better for you and taste wonderful. You will need either a mixer or whisk with as many tines (wires) as you can find. The extra wires help the two liquids to come to an understanding and get along. It also helps to have a large bowl to mix these in that gives it room to move around. Now we need our ingredients:

1 oz white wine vinegar

3 oz olive oil

1 tsp prepared mustard or ¼ tsp mustard powder

Kosher or flaked sea salt

White pepper

In your bowl goes the vinegar and mustard. (We use less powdered than prepared because it takes less and can make your dressing overly spicy.) Whisk together briskly and start to drizzle in the oil in while whisking. You want it to come in a steady slow stream. You will be able to tell when the emulsion begins to form because the liquid will be cloudy and thicker than the vinegar alone. Keep up the whisking until all the oil is used. You may add the oil faster as the emulsion continues to form but do not stop whisking until it is all incorporated and slow adding if oil starts to separate. Once it is all mixed add in a pinch of salt and pepper and mix in. Now, with a clean spoon, give it a little taste. What you are looking for is a gentle spiciness or heat and a saline level. You want to be aware they are there but not get punched in the face by them. Pinch by pinch add the pepper to get to desired heat. Do the same with the salt. (We use Kosher or flaked sea salt because it dissolves into food faster than iodized and gives you a truer sense of saline content.) Also use a clean spoon for every taste; no one wants the cold you don’t even know you have yet. Refrigerate when done.

Now, let’s tackle the salad! We will go with simple here as well so the flavors will speak for themselves. Your ingredients are:

2 heads Romaine lettuce

1 stalk celery

1 carrot

1 shallot

1 medium sized tomato

Pull the lettuce leaves apart from the heads and carefully rinse and dry. Tear the lettuce from the ribs of the leaves into bite sized pieces, discard the ribs. (The ribs can be too much crunch in the salad.) Put the pieces into your salad bowl. Rinse and cut the celery into a medium dice and add to bowl. Peel and rinse carrot. Shred carrot with a box grater and add to bowl. Peel and thinly slice shallot and add to bowl. Dice tomato and place in colander to drain excess juice. Once drained, add to bowl.

Now for the fun part, take your vinaigrette from the fridge. If it has separated a bit don’t worry, give it a little whisk and it will come back. Drizzle some over the salad and toss to mix together. You want the dressing to touch all the salad pieces but not to be drenched in them. When serving, add a little grated parmesan cheese for some extra saltiness and fresh ground pepper for a little extra heat. If you have some dressing left over you can use it as a dipping sauce for French bread with the salad.

Now that you have a basic standard to follow you can play with it. Try adding fresh and dried herbs and spices to your vinaigrette. Try adding less oil, maybe 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil. Use different vinegars and oils. Find the ratio you like and play with seasoning. Or replace the vinegar with citrus like lemon juice. When making the salad, look at your favorite vegetables and fruits and think what herbs work best. The sky will be the limit.

Source by Bill Akers

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