From the basic vinaigrette to creamy Ranch, salad dressing provides exciting ways to enjoy your greens.
Eating salad without dressing is like a dinner party without guests; dull and lifeless. But with a splash of vinegar, a glug of oil and a few extra ingredients, you can transform those ho-hum greens into something vibrant.
Salad dressings can be traced back to the ancient times. The Babylonians used oil and vinegar to dress their greens as far back as 2,000 years ago. At the turn of the century, Americans started developing store-bought dressing by adding spices and ingredients to the basic vinaigrette (oil and vinegar). Many popular brands of dressing, currently on your grocery store shelves, have been on the market since the 1920s. Kraft, for example, made its foray into the salad business with the introduction of its French dressing back in 1925.
You don't need to resort to store-bought salad dressing. It's incredibly easy to make delicious salad dressing at home. There are two basic types of savoury salad dressing: the basic French vinaigrette, an emulsion of oil and vinegar, and the creamy mayonnaise-based dressings, an emulsion of oil and egg yolks. All salad dressings derive from these.
The basic vinaigrette:
1/3 balsamic vinegar
2/3 olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
You can substitute or use a combination of red wine, tarragon, white and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice for the acidic base. Similarly, you can use a combination of different oils to suit your palate. Honey or maple syrup can be substituted for sugar. If you find the taste of raw garlic too strong, just rub a clove along the inside your salad bowl for a hint of garlic flavour.
Once you master the basic vinaigrette, you can experiment by adding different ingredients, from fresh herbs to grated parmesan cheese to Worcestershire sauce and even a dollop of ketchup. Laura Calder, the host of French Food at Home, adds drops of soy sauce and a pinch of beef stock powder to give her French vinaigrette an extra kick.
For best results, use good quality ingredients. I like to make my vinaigrette directly in a big wooden salad bowl. I blend all the ingredients and let the mixture stand in the wooden bowl before adding greens. Over time, your wooden salad bowl will be seasoned with your favourite flavours.
You can make mayonnaise using a whisk or even a fork but it is very labour intensive since you need to whisk the mixture non-stop. For best results, I recommend using an electric mixer, blender or a food processor.
Homemade mayonnaise may taste strong for people accustomed to commercial mayonnaise. You can lessen the taste by adding some plain yogurt. Homemade mayonnaise will refrigerate for three to four days. Mayonnaise can be difficult to master, as it often curdles, but it's easy once you get the hang of it.
Add ketchup, sweet pickles, herbs and spices (usually mustard) for Thousand Island dressing. Use olive oil and add garlic for aioli or try adding yogurt or cream, and ketchup for a classic Russian dressing. For a creamy Ranch, add buttermilk or sour cream, green onions and spices to the basic mayonnaise.
Try it today:
*Creamy Yogurt dressing
*Caesar Salad dressing