I know springtime is here when salad bowls begin to fill up and become increasingly colorful as fresh lettuces, herbs and edible flowers such as violets come into season. And for every springy salad, there are a dozen zingy salad dressings to garnish your mix and pack a flavor punch that really says, “this is what life is all about.”
The problem with most store-bought salad dressings is that they offer too much of certain things — too much sugar, too much salt, too much non-preferred oil or too many unrecognizable ingredients — instead of playing up natural, herbaceous flavors and the delicate perfumes of rich, high-quality oils. Quality ingredients are key, and customizing the proportions you use of each is an art you owe it to yourself to cultivate.
A good vinaigrette is basically just the result of good oil (1 to 2 parts) meeting good vinegar or citrus juice (1 part), plus a little seasoning with herbs or spices. Though it’s best to balance bitter greens with sweet dressings and vice versa, there are few rules to follow when it comes to blending your own dressing. For example, I often adapt sugary recipes to my personal taste by halving the sugar (or, learn how to grow the stevia plant as an alternative low-calorie sweetener that won’t mess with your blood sugar levels).
The six recipes below make good use of oils and vinegars. Use this handy vinegar guide to discover what different types have to offer, from herb and balsamic to rice and wine vinegars. And as a final note on cooking oils, learn to read their labels to ensure quality. Cooking oil designations can be confusing and inconsistent.
Yields about 2 cups.
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
4 stalks rhubarb (about 2 loosely packed cups), cut into thin slices
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch coarse sea salt
Several twists freshly ground pepper
Heat water and honey over medium heat. When the mixture begins to boil, add rhubarb and boil five minutes more, stirring often. Stir in vinegar and lemon zest, and cook five to 10 more minutes, until dressing is reduced by about half. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly. Whisk the olive oil into the dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or cold over fresh salad greens. Don’t forget to try these other incredible rhubarb recipes while you’re at it.
Roasted Shallot Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup.
2 medium shallots, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces creamy blue cheese
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon leaves
1 teaspoon fresh parsley
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Set shallots and garlic cloves inside a square of foil and pour a tablespoon of oil over them. Fold foil tops together, forming a packet. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until shallots are soft to the touch. Set foil packet aside to cool. Puree all ingredients except remaining oil, then slowly add oil while blending. Season with salt and pepper.
Classic Caesar Dressing
Serve with grilled kale or grilled romaine — or just toss with romaine for a traditional Caesar salad. Don’t forget homemade croutons!
6 tablespoons each mayo and olive oil
1/4 cup each Dijon mustard and grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
3 garlic cloves, minced
4-6 anchovy fillets, minced
Whisk together ingredients and add 1/4 cup water.
From-Scratch Thousand Island
Equal parts mayo and ketchup (try these recipes for DIY condiments)
Dill pickles, minced
Combine and refrigerate.
Got the dressing but short on salad ideas? Anne Vassal’s Healthy Salad Recipes: Not Just a Side Dish has what you’re looking for, from refreshing cucumber salad to green bean with garbanzo and tomato-mozzarella salads.
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