Salad dressing taste sometimes receives the least of any attention paid to a meal. You may have had the misfortune to have tasted green salads that were doused in burning dressings that were mostly vinegar; tasteless blends of olive oil and little else; or worse yet, store-bought dressings loaded with sugar and cloying to the palate.
Many people eventually acquire a taste for these less-than-satisfactory dressings and never discover the truly wonderful dressings that they are missing out on. It is a simple task, however, to prepare great tasting salad dressings in the comfort of your own kitchen.
The best place to start is with the font of all salad dressings – the classic French vinaigrette. The challenge in making this dressing is being able to balance the various tastes – vinegar or lemon juice for the sour acid taste, olive oil and other ingredients for sweetness, and black or hot peppers or mustard for heat. As most experienced cooks will understand, the higher the quality of your ingredients, the better the flavour of your final product.
The dressing for a basic green salad to serve four should consist of approximately 1 ½ teaspoons of mustard, a tablespoon of vinegar, 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper. Place all the ingredients except the oil in a bowl and whisk them together until you obtain a smooth texture. Then, while continuing to whisk the mixture, drizzle in the olive oil. You should also remember that salad dressings almost never come out the same way twice, and you should taste your dressing frequently as you make it so you can perform the necessary adjustments.
Mastering the art of making vinaigrette opens a whole world of possibilities to you, especially when fresh herbs become available in the summer. You should not be afraid to experiment with different ingredients, and any mistakes that you make can be remedied through the addition of more vinegar and olive oil. When fresh herbs are not available, you may find yourself using dried herbs, which is perfectly acceptable. You should remember, however, that the taste in dried herbs is twice that of fresh herbs, because the water within them has evaporated, concentrating the taste. A mixture of dried herbs known as Herbes de Provence is widely available in gourmet stores and tastes excellent.
There are many herbs that you could use to flavour your dressing with such as tarragon, rosemary, thyme, mint, cilantro, chervil, parsley, and dill. You can use any combination of herbs too. France, Italy, and California also produce some excellent herbed olive oils, but these tend to be rather expensive.
If you prefer a milder, less-acidic vinaigrette, consider using rice vinegar or cider vinegar. If you have a fondness for sweet dressings, then the balsamic vinegars found in supermarkets, while not truly authentic, help you create a pleasantly sweet dressing. Authentic balsamic vinegars from Modena, Italy, cost $160 or more for a bottle of only 3.5 oz.
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