Salad is an important part of just about every evening meal we serve. Sometimes our salads are simple - a few lettuce leaves, maybe some red onion or shaved red cabbage. But during the long gardening season, salads become really extravagant with lots of different lettuces, arugula, tomatoes, peppers, beans, summer squash...whatever veggie is fresh, crunchy and great to eat raw. And for me, no salad is complete without dressing.
For years we used the store-bought bottled variety - Kraft and Wishbone with coupons were inexpensive choices. Sometimes we would splurge on a bottle of Annie's Shitake. But once I started learning more about good food, reading ingredients more carefully, and being concerned about packaging and the carbon cost of food miles, these commercial products lost all their appeal. Now we always make our own salad dressing. It's easy. It's very inexpensive, even when made with the highest quality ingredients. There is very little packaging involved. I know exactly what's in it, and what's not - like preservatives, artificial flavors and dyes. And, the best part, it tastes fantastic.
The simplest vinaigrette uses only four ingredients: oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. A classic recipe adds a bit of Dijon mustard and minced shallots or garlic. There are thousands of recipes for home made salad dressings, with all kinds of variations, available in cook books and on the web.
My dear friend Nadine Frush has made it easy with her on-line Salad Success, where you'll find some great salad dressing recipes http://saladsuccess.com/recipes/french/sherry-shallots-vinaigrette/.
Nadine also sells a clever salad shaker with a spout that makes whipping up a batch of salad dressing a piece of cake.
One of my favorite variations on basic vinaigrette has a raspberry twist:
1/4 cup vinegar - use the best quality you can afford, preferably made with red wine or Champagne, or use raspberry vinegar
3/4 cup high quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 to 5 raspberries (fresh or frozen - I freeze them in season to use all year long)
fresh ground black pepper to taste
Whisk the vinegar, salt and mustard together. Slowly pour the oil into the bowl and whisk continuously as it combines. (You can also do this in a food processor or even a blender). Try not to over-due the whisking. You want it to blend nicely but not be beaten up. Finally add the garlic or shallots and the raspberries mixing gently. Place the dressing in a container with a screw top and allow it to sit for a half hour or more so that the raspberry flavor deepens. Shake the container well to remix all the ingredients before using to dress your salad. Store it in the fridge but bring it up to room temperature before serving.