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Perfect Salad Dressing

June 23, 2012
Hey all, check out this entry from Chef Cheryl, our Dirtbox culinary expert!
“I’ve spent the past couple summers living on an island in Alaska, which was almost entirely amazing. The major downfall was inconsistency in the produce. Our produce shipments would sometimes arrive to us frozen, rotten, or (amazingly) both! Nevertheless, we were always able to be creative in our attempts to freshen and spice up our produce, and one of the ways we found was making fresh salad dressings. It added a new element to meals that verged on becoming monotonous, and it also gives a chance to experiment with new flavors, vinegars, oils, etc.
Making your own dressing is super easy, super quick, and can really transform what may feel like a salad rut. You are basically taking oil and vinegar (which, as we all know, do not want to become friends so easily) and creating a temporary emulsion*.
A good rule of thumb for the process is to remember the 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar. Now, there are definitely sometimes where the ratio will be slightly different, because some vinegars have different strengths and degrees of tartness/sourness, and you may just prefer more vinegar taste in yours. There is no rule set in stone with cooking. You also want to find complementary flavors. Oils like canola and safflower are neutral flavored and make for good salad oils, but don’t be afraid to experiment by adding some sesame oil, nut oils (there are so many varieties available!), even avocado oil!l All of these lend flavor and you really only need to add a few drops in with the neutral oils.
For vinegars, you will want to play around a bit.  Just like with oils, there are SO many varieties of vinegar from which to choose! Sherry, raspberry, and cider vinegars can lend a beautiful flavor for fruity salads; white wine and champagne vinegars are on the lighter end of the spectrum, and will give you a lighter flavor and color. Balsamic vinegar is an old staple, though it can overpower if used too liberally. Don’t be afraid to try new vinegars! And make sure to taste them before adding to your dressing.
Taste the dressing along the way by dipping a lettuce leaf into it and shaking off the excess. It will give you a more real idea of how the dressing is going to taste.
Now, to season it: most basic vinaigrettes don’t require much seasoning beyond some good salt and fresh ground black pepper. However, you can add just about anything you’d like to season it up. Remember, you are looking for complementary flavors, so it’s good to have a basic idea of the taste you’re hoping to achieve before throwing seasoning in. Some folks love to put mustard or honey in their dressing, which can help stabilize the emulsion, but also can offer a sweet or spicy flavor to balance some of the tartness. Lemon juice or other citrus is often used as a complement to the vinegar, although in some cases you may choose to leave the vinegar out entirely and make a fresh dressing of oil and lemon juice (perfect for a light salad on a hot summer day)! Finely diced garlic and shallots are a common addition, as well, and can both be used sparingly without missing out on flavor.
To mix, you want to use a non-reactive bowl (no aluminum) so the acids in the vinegar do not pick up a metallic taste. I’ve found the most efficient way to do it is to throw all the ingredients into a mason jar, close the lid tightly, shake up vigorously, and enjoy! After you give it a good shake, let it sit for a bit so the flavors can infuse, for anywhere from one to three hours.
Here are some recipes to try:
Basic vinaigrette:
  • 3/4 cup salad oil
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • dash of sea salt, to taste
  • dash of fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Honey mustard vinaigrette:
  • 3/4 cup salad oil
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Ranch dressing:
  • 1/2 cup mayo*
  • 3/4 cup sour cream (or greek yogurt, or creme fraiche)
  • 3/4 buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1.5 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp chives
  • 1/2 medium shallot, diced
White garlic dressing:
  • 3/4 cup mayo*
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed, to taste (You might not love garlic as much as I do, so go with your gut)
  • 1 tsp parsley
Blue cheese dressing:
  • 1 cup mayo*
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 lb crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Basil champagne vinaigrette:
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp oil
  • 1.5 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp plain greek yogurt (or creme fraiche)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
All these recipes can mixed ahead of time and used to dress a salad at the last minute. They’ll stay good for up to a week in your fridge, so keep that in mind when deciding on how much to make. “
* (Nadine’s notes) Does store-bought mayonnaise gross you out? Because I don’t like the idea of eating GMO soybean oil, or GMO modified corn starch or preservatives… so why not make your own? Grab some of our farm eggs and try this simple mayo recipe…
Easy Mayonnaise
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 pint salad oil
  • 1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2-3 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt, or to taste
  • Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Preparation:

    1. Let all your ingredients come to room temperature before you begin.
    2. Using an electric hand mixer, stand mixer or a wire whisk, whip the egg yolks for a minute or two, until they’re thoroughly beaten.
    3. Add the 2 tsp vinegar and whisk for about half a minute. Then add the salt, and the cayenne if you’re using it, and beat for another 30 seconds or so.
    4. Now, with the mixer going full speed (or with your arm whisking as hard as it can) add the oil very slowly, as little as a drop at a time.
    5. When the emulsion starts to form, you can add the oil more quickly, but keep it at a fairly moderate stream. Adding the oil too fast will break your mayonnaise.
    6. When the emulsion thickens, add a teaspoon or so of vinegar to thin it out. Continue adding oil, stopping occasionally to add more vinegar if the mixture gets too thick.
    7. Finish with the lemon juice, both to add a bit of tang as well as to achieve the right consistency.
    8. Store unused portion in the refrigerator, where it should keep for a day or two.

Makes 1 pint of mayonnaise.

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