The Farmer’s Markets are in full swing or opening this weekend, and they are full of beautiful salad greens, radishes, and scallions. Already this spring I’ve harvested arugula, also know as rocket, and Rosemary has been bringing home mesclun mix, baby spinach, green leaf and baby romaine from Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford. So with the salad season in full swing, let’s discuss how to make your own salad dressing so you can avoid the high fructose corn syrup and other industrial additives found in supermarket salad dressings.
Vinaigrette is the classic oil and vinegar mixture popularized by the French, but adopted by other cultures with their own variations. It is often referred to a “French dressing,” although the reddish orange conglomeration of oil, sweeteners, tomato puree and spices sold under that name bears no discernible relationship to a true vinaigrette.
Classically, vinaigrette is 3 parts oil, usually extra-virgin olive oil, but other oils can be used, to 1 part vinegar. Lemon or other citrus juices can be substituted for the vinegar, but when doing so, the proportions are usually closer to 1 to 1 between the oil and the acid. Aromatics like minced shallot, onion, and/or garlic are often added, along with salt and pepper, and fresh herbs are frequently included.
By itself, a mixture of oil and vinegar will separate quite quickly due to their immiscibility. If shaken together in a jar, the oil will become dispersed in microscopic droplets throughout the vinegar and a temporary emulsion will occur. However, within a few minutes, the emulsion will break and the oil, being lighter, will accumulate above the vinegar in the jar as the dressing separates.
So classic vinaigrettes should be mixed just before dressing the salad, which should be just before serving.
There are a couple of ways to preserve the emulsion longer; one can make the mixture in a blender or food processor, which will not only disperse the oil into even more tiny droplets, allowing them to maintain their suspension in the vinegar longer, but also air will be trapped in the dressing, delaying the inevitable force of nature to separate the components. Or one can add an emulsifier, like a little mustard, which contains lecithin, a natural substance that lowers the interfacial tension between the liquids, allowing the emulsion to persist longer. The mustard, of course, adds additional flavor to the dressing, so its presence has multiple benefits.
Other possible additions to vinaigrette include capers, anchovies, gherkins, hard cooked egg, or even raspberries. Oils other than olive one might use include corn, safflower, canola, peanut, walnut, hazelnut, pistachio or one of the infused oils. The salt should be dissolved in the vinegar first, as it will not dissolve in the oil.
Dress the salad just before serving as the greens will tend to wilt and exude their moisture under the presence of the vinegar and salt if allowed to stand for too long. It’s best to use a glass or ceramic bowl for the salad, as wooden salad bowls will turn rancid with repeated use, no matter how well and often washed.
½ to 2 Tbl good wine vinegar or a mixture of wine vinegar and lemon juice
1/8 Tsp salt
¼ Tsp dry mustard or 2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 Tbl salad or olive oil
Big pinch of ground pepper
1-2 Tbl minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, tarragon, basil or a pinch of dried herbs
Optional: 1 clove minced garlic
Either place all ingredients in a glass jar and shake vigorously fore 30 seconds to blend. Dress salad immediately. Or place all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed 1 minute. Dress salad or place in cruet and serve salad and dressing. Or combine vinegar, salt and mustard then blend in oil drop by drop whisking with a balloon whisk until emulsified. Stir in herbs and dress salad immediately.
For Sauce Ravigote stir in 1 tsp chopped capers, 1 tsp minced shallot or green onion, 2 Tbl minced fresh parsley, chives, tarragon, or chervil. This sauce is served with cold beef, chicken, fish, or vegetables.