Go to your fridge now and pull out all the bottled dressings.
No, wait a minute, get the garbage can out and now go over to the fridge...
Put them on the counter and look at the ingredient label on the back. What ingredients do you recognize and which ones don't you recognize. Do you know why those are there?
Look at the expiration date. Throw the bottle away and vow to make your own salad dressings for the next month. You may already know about this great little app called Fooducate but I will share it here. It is a tool that serves to educate you about ingredients in processed foods. Download the free app and then you scan the bar code on the product you want to know more about. It will grade the product and tell you why it has the grade it is given, then gives you products that are considered an "upgrade".
Now that we got that out of the way, let's make salad dressing! Once you have made your own and taste them on your favorite greens, grains or mixed salads you will never go back. The versatility of homemade dressing are never more than 5 minutes away once you have all the ingredients available. I like to make my dressings in a small bowl with a whisk. Sometimes I make them in a small bowl food processor like my Cuisinart. They store well in a small pint jar in the fridge (canning jars are great for storing dressings).
Inventory what is in your pantry for making dressings. Do you have a few different oils? You might stock extra virgin olive oil, a neutral (preferrably expellier pressed) oil like safflower or grapeseed oils, toasted sesame oil. Not olive oils are the same. Try to choose a higher quality olive oil for your salad dressings. For some tips on choosing olive oil check out this link: Choosing olive oil Some of my favorite olive oils are California Olive Ranch and Lucini Olive Oil.
What vinegars or other acids do you have? Vinegars to have on hand might include red wine, rice wine, sherry, balsamic, apple cider vinegars as a good variety. Dijon mustard is a staple ingredient in many dressings. I like to keep a bottle of lemon and or lime juice in the fridge if I do not have fresh lemons or limes available.
Dry spices like kosher or sea salts, black pepper, oregano, cumin, thyme, coriander, cayenne, paprika are staples in a whole foods pantry. Fresh garlic and shallots and especially seasonal fresh herbs are bonuses in summer. Many people have health related issues associated with sodium. Learning how to incorporate fresh herbs and spices can minimize the need for more salt although salt is an important component to dressings.
What kind of sweetners do you have on hand? Local honey and maple syrup are great alternatives to using white sugar and add another depth of sweetness that sugar just cant provide.
A good all around oil to acid ratio is 3 parts oil to one part acid. Remember that and you can make dressings. Let's make dressing:
Classic French Vinaigrette
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake to mix. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your tastes.
Variations: You can take this basic recipe and enhance it into countless variations by adding dried herbs (1/4 tsp dried thyme, dill, or oregano). You can add a tsp of honey, maple syrup, or cane sugar to sweeten it.
Plan to use a handfull of salad greens per person and toss with 1-2 TB dressing per serving of greens. You only want to lightly coat the greens, not drown them in dressing. You may serve extra dressing at the table.
Summer herbs dressing
This dressing is inspired from a delicious recipe from Masala Farm by Suvir Saran and Charlie Burd. Their recipe uses fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, dill, fennel, marjoram, basil, lemon verbena, lavender, and a few others I cannot remember, but feel free to use the fresh herbs you have available or growing in your own garden.
I have created a simple version. Use fresh herbs you have available. The originial recipe has some herbs that you may not have access to unless you grow them yourself (like lavender, lemon verbena, fennel, marjoram) so I thought I would simplify it just a little.
2 dill fronds
2 sprigs fresh basil
1 sprig fresh oregano
3-4 fresh chives
1 sprig fresh thyme
Juice of two lemons
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 TB local maple syrup (medium amber is best)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Pick leaves off all the herbs and finely chop. Transfer the berbs to a small bowl and whisk in the lemon juice, oil and maple syrup (may also use honey) and add the spices. Mix well in a jar and use within a day.
*Use this dressing on sliced cucumber and onions and tomato salad in summer and you will want to make it often. Try this dressing on butter lettuce sprinkled with some shredded carrot and even daikon radishes for a German inspired light salad.
Make some dressing for your salad!