It’s easy to get fresh, high quality ingredients into a salad bowl, especially with all the ready-to-eat choices now available in the produce section. But making a killer dressing can be tricky.
What’s a killer dressing?
To me, it’s the kind of dressing that compliments the salad without overwhelming it. A killer dressing adds complex layers of flavor to salad ingredients and is enhanced by any juices that might exude from the produce in your bowl. For example, if you add sliced strawberries to your salad, you want a dressing that will mingle well with the juice from the berries when you toss the salad.
Let’s start with a vinaigrette.
The easiest dressing to make is a vinaigrette, as it requires few ingredients or equipment. But there is more to a great vinaigrette than oil and vinegar. So, here are some basic rules of thumb I’ve developed over the years for making vinaigrettes that are simple, yet killer, dressings.
1.) Throw out the old formula of one part vinegar to three parts oil.
Modern taste buds expect more tang. So, splash in some extra vinegar or lemon juice, and add a naturally sweet fruit juice, too, such as orange or apple juice. For most vinaigrettes, I find the addition of juice creates a more interesting, complex flavor and eliminates the need for refined sugar, a common ingredient in salad dressing.
2.) Give your dressing some character.
Minced shallots or garlic provide a pleasant zing and compliment almost any variety of produce. Fresh herbs or dry spices are another great choice. Stick to herbs with soft leaves such as dill, cilantro, or basil. If you like the aroma, it’s a safe bet to throw some into your salad dressing. As for spices, curry, mustard powder and cinnamon are among my favorites.
3.) Invest in the best quality extra virgin olive oil that you can afford.
I recommend using U.S made products, not only because cheap European produced olive oil is known to have been deliberately mislabeled “extra virgin” and shipped to the U.S. (which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to know what you’re buying), but also because of the excellent quality of domestic products. Many, in fact, have won international awards.
4.) Invest in the best quality vinegars you can afford.
Store them in the fridge, as cold salad dressing ingredients are more lettuce-friendly than are those at room temperature. Refrigerating vinegars also maintains their color longer. I say vinegars, plural, because different types of vinegar – white, red, balsamic, white balsamic, tarragon flavored, etc. – will impart noticeably different flavors to your dressings. And variety is the spice of life, right? Among my favorites, O Olive Oil Company’s Orange Blossom Champagne Vinegar ; their Port Balsamic; and Sparrow Lane’s Cinnamon Pear Vinegar.
5.) Don’t forget the salt.
You don’t need a lot – about an eighth of a teaspoon for a half cup of dressing. For most dressings, it makes a big difference.
Master Recipe For Tangy Vinaigrette Dressing
| 1/3 cup |
60 calories per tablespoon
Ingredients – Base Recipe
- 2 tablespoons vinegar, lemon juice, or a combination
- 1 1/2 tablespoons orange, apple or pear juice
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
Ingredients – Flavor Additions
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 1/2 teaspoon or more minced garlic
- Scant 1/4 cup herbs (leaves only) such as dill, cilantro or basil, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon spice such as curry powder, mustard powder or cinnamon
Whisk together the first two ingredients, then, pour in the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking continuously (this helps the dressing emulsify). Add your choice of the additional ingredients listed, along with the salt, and whisk again. Taste-test the dressing on a small piece of whatever main ingredient is in your salad. This will give you a good idea of how your dressing will compliment the salad. Add fresh ground pepper, and more salt, if desired, along with additional herbs or spices or whatever you sense the dressing needs.
Please note: I encourage you to stray widely from my list of flavor additions. Experimenting is the best way to create a real killer salad dressing!