According to The Internet, which is never wrong, salad dressing probably kinda/sorta came into being about 2000 years ago when the lovely people of Babylonia began to use oil and vinegar to dress lettuce. I’m glad someone started the trend. See, I’m a rabbit: I not only love salad, I love just lettuce. All kinds of lettuce, every kind. I even love iceberg lettuce, such great texture, what a wonderful crunch. While I love eating all kinds of lettuce naked, I also love a good salad dressing. This leads to the first in a series subtly entitled “Never, ever, ever!”
Never, ever, ever buy salad dressing in a bottle. Ever.
There’s only one reason to think you should buy salad dressing in a bottle, which is ease. Come on Tom, seriously. I don’t have all kinds of time. It’s so easy. I pick it up at the store, I crack open the bottle, I pour it on some lettuce, instant salad.
With a little initial prep, almost the same amount of ease gives you a dressing that is much healthier than anything you can get in a bottle. So making it at home makes much more sense. Plus, it tastes infinitely better. Trust me, do this once and you won’t go back. You have to go to the store to buy the bottled dressing. Instead, while at the store, buy a few of products to have on hand for prep and you are ready, anytime, to make your own dressing. Eventually, you won’t even be able to use a bottled dressing as you’ll begin to taste the chemicals and processing. Making your own salad dressing, along with broth, an upcoming post, and tomato sauce, an upcoming post, are the easiest first steps to transforming your cooking, kitchen and eating habits. Plus, I’ll say it again, homemade dressing tastes so much better. You don’t have to love cooking or being in the kitchen to ease your way into your own dressing. And my homemade vinaigrette is, well, incredible. And versatile… it’s great on it’s own but you can also use it as the basis for a number of other dressings. It’s so easy. Here we go:
All you need is:
- a mason jar with a screw top or some kind of smaller jar you can shake easily
- Fresh garlic
- A good quality olive oil. I really like Costco’s Kirkland Olive Oil if you are a Costco member. A very good friend of mine who knows olive oil very well suggests olive oil from California Olive Oil Co, Mc Evoy Olive Oil or one from a top italian company such as Frescobaldi.
- Wine vinegars…red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar and/or white wine or champagne vinegar
- course ground mustard (I like it course, with seeds, just get a good one, coarse or smooth)
- salt and pepper
All of these things keep a while: peeled garlic in the fridge or fresh garlic and shallots out on the counter, lemons on the counter, mustard in the fridge, everything else in the cabinet. Easy.
Here is what you do:
Chop one half shallot pretty fine. Mince or press the garlic cloves. Add the shallot and the garlic to your jar.
Add vinegar, depending on your mood. You can use just one, or a combo … red and champagne vinegar, or red and sherry, or sherry and white… it’s all going to be good. You want about 1/4 cup total.
Squeeze into the jar the juice of half the lemon. Just cut it in half and squeeze right into the jar, no worries about the seeds. If the worst thing that happens to you is you swallow a seed from a lemon, you’ve had a wonderful day.
Add some salt (a few good shakes or grinds) and let this sit 5-10 minutes. You can do this at the start of meal prep and let this sit as you prep something else. Or pop a bottle of wine. Or take a bath. Whatever.
(Having this sit, incidentally, is called letting the garlic and shallot macerate, which is not to be confused with masticate, which is what the maceration is leading towards. By letting the garlic and shallot macerate, you allow them to soften, both in texture and flavor. And they infuse the vinegar with flavor as well.)
Add 1 cup olive oil, a spoonful of the mustard, lots of black pepper and more salt to taste. Screw on the top on and shake it up well. Voila! A wonderful homemade vinaigrette to beat anything you can buy. Taste it and adjust any seasoning as you like.
Add herbs! I always do this… thyme is my favorite but anything works: rosemary, chives, tarragon, etc. Just add before you shake. This is reason enough to plant a few herbs anywhere you can, though you will use fresh herbs constantly, even as decoration. Believe me, I’m death to plants. If I can’t kill it, no one can. And I grow tons of herbs. Easy.
If you don’t have everything listed above? Who cares! While this is a great recipe as is, if you leave out the shallots, or garlic, or lemon, or whatever combo, it still is going to be excellent. Ultimately, if you mix a 4 or 5 to 1 ratio of oil to vinegar and add salt and pepper, you are still going to have a much better dressing and/or base than anything you get in a bottle. So ‘I don’t have all that’ is no excuse.
A couple of variations:
Ranch style: Add some buttermilk (and thyme) before you shake and you will have a wonderful vinaigrette ranch. If you want it thicker, cut back a little bit on the oil, and add few spoonfuls of mayonnaise or creme fraiche before you shake.
Blue Cheese: Add some crumbled blue cheese for a blue cheese vinaigrette. One of my favorites of all time. (And if you want your own homemade creamy blue cheese dressing, which serves a wedge of iceberg perfectly, this is my go to recipe, it works as a dressing or a party dip. It’s So Good.
So. Make this dressing, toss it with some good lettuce, maybe sprinkle with some good parmesan (not Kraft from the green can, please) or pecorino, and you are in business! Patricia Wells says toss gently 33 times to get the perfect salad. This is true even with bottled dressing so it is not adding work, relax.
I must also leave you with a recipe for a salad. The following is one of my favorite salads in the world, something I came up with when I went raw for a few months. Don’t let raw scare you. Guacamole is raw. Pico de gallo is raw. Many good things you love are raw. This raw vegetable salad, adorned with this dressing, is healthy and, yes, it tastes great. Looks great too. Your people will tell you.
RAW VEGETABLE SALAD
This might seem strange to some, but give it a try. Besides being extremely healthy, the salad is very satisfying; it is delicious and it has a terrific, hearty crunch … obviously! It is also versatile in that you can mix and match your favorite vegetables in it.
The list below is just a basis from which to work, though it is what I make most of the time. Just be sure to use the freshest, best vegetables available. This is a recipe that calls for top notch produce, given you will be eating them raw.
3 green zuchinni, ends trimmed
5 carrots, ends trimmed
2 ears fresh corn
1 red bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 carton fresh cherry or small plum tomatoes, halved
1 fresh avocado, diced
Goat or feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
Basic Vinaigrette (LOOK UP!)
Salt and pepper
- Slice each zucchini down the middle, lengthwise, then slice each half into three sections, lengthwise. Put all six slices side by side and slice horizontally into small pieces. Do Not Peel.
- Repeat with the carrots. (Also, do not peel the carrots. The skin is very good for you and also tastes great.) Place diced vegetables in a large bowl.
- Hold corn vertically and slide a knife down each side, removing the fresh kernels. Add to bowl.
- Dice the peppers. Add to the bowl, along with the chopped red onion.
- Add halved tomatoes, diced avocado and basil leaves, torn into small pieces with your hands.
- Add cheese, if desired and toss it all with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat.
- Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Note: this will stay in the fridge for a few days. If you are going to eat off it for a few days (it doubles easily), add the avocado and fresh basil each time you make it rather than at the beginning. They both will be at their best if cut/torn each time you eat the salad. It’s also best at room temperature so if you eat it over the course of a few days, pull some out an hour or so before you eat it.
ONE MORE VARIATION, not quite raw:
This salad, mixed with some kind of grain, is wonderful. Make a small pot of wheat berries, barley, farro or couscous and after the grain cools, toss it with the salad. It makes it a bit heartier and just as delicious. It also keeps in the fridge for a few days. Again, just bring to room temperature for the best flavors.