Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No, No, Vinaigrette

I'm very picky about my salad dressing. It can't be too acidic, too sour, too sharp, or too sweet. It has to be the perfect blend of all of those components for me to fully embrace it. And while I've always secretly wished I was one of those people who could just ask for "oil and vinegar" on the side, I want more flavor than that.

I was raised on store bought, which definitely skewed my idea of what salad dressing should be. For me, the salad was merely the vehicle by which I would consume mass quanitities of dressing. I would pour on so much that there would be a huge puddle at the bottom of the bowl when the salad was gone, which I would happily slurp up. If a salad was naked I wanted no part of it.

But over the past few years, as I've become a more conscious eater and have worked to eat as few processed foods as possible, I've discovered that my tastes have been changing. I love the taste of fresh fruit and vegetables all by themselves. When you rid your palate of all of the additives that get thrown into processed foods, you can start to taste more of the natural properties of fruits and vegetables.

I remember a recent conversation I had with my nephew. We were talking about fruit. He doesn't eat it very much--doesn't care for the taste. He told me it never tastes as sweet as fruit-flavored candy. I knew what he meant. When you eat foods that have a lot of sugar in them, it makes it harder to taste sugar that occurs naturally. When I first decided to try to eat more whole foods, I didn't particularly enjoy them. But I stuck with it and, after a short period of time, I bit into an apple that was so sweet and tasty it almost made me cry. I could taste the difference between kinds of apples. Oranges were a burst of flavor. Vegetables had a subtle sweetness that I could taste for the first time.

Which brings me back to salads. Over the past couple of years, I've come to love salads for the basic ingredients--the lettuce, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and whatever else I happen to throw into one. I still don't like to eat one naked, but what I'm looking for in a dressing has changed since the days when I would go through a large bottle in three or four salads.

Now I want my dressing to enhance the salad, not drown it. I've played with making my own in the past, but I could never achieve the right balance of oil, sour, sweet and sharp. But this recipe I found in The Best Vegetarian Recipes by Martha Rose Shulman is just what I was looking for. It has a balanced base, to which I have enjoyed experimenting with additional flavors.

This is her basic vinaigrette recipe. The book has a whole section on variations. When I make it, I add the rest of the olive oil, rather than adding it with each use. She also recommends that you remove the garlic if you're not going to use the dressing right away, as it can get bitter. Being the garlic lover that I am, I don't bother with that. So far no problem.

I added some tarragon to this batch. It's good, but I didn't add enough. I also used Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne vinegar instead of balsamic, because that's what I had in my fridge.

I use 1/3 cup each of the olive and canola oils, then add another third of a cup of olive oil at the end. At some point I plan to try it with the yogurt.

This dressing lasts me far beyond three or four salads.

Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Sauces

Vinaigrette for the Week

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
5 Tbsp. sherry or red wine vinegar
salt to taste
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. canola oil (or olive oil)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 c. yogurt, or additional olive oil

Whisk together vinegars, salt and mustard. Whisk in 1/3 c. each olive and canola oils. Transfer to a container and refrigerate.

To serve, add 1 part olive oil to 3 parts dressing.

Makes 1 cup
from The Best Vegetarian Recipes, by Martha Rose Shulman (Morrow, 2001)

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