The Basics

Dressing a salad is a highly individual art. Classic vinaigrettes call for using the following proportions: either 1/4 - 1/3 vinegar or lemon to 3/4 - 2/3 oil as a standard proportion. Those on low fat diets, would do well to use an organic cold pressed olive oil, which has health enhancing qualities, as part of their daily allowance of fat. With a good olive oil, a very little will go a long way.

My favorite vinegar in salad dressings is organic apple cider vinegar. In the summer, we tend to simply splash on a good cold pressed organic olive oil, followed by an organic balsamic vinegar or simply fresh squeezed lemon. Classic vinaigrettes also use a dash of prepared or powdered mustard as an emulsifier, as well as for flavor. I like to add a dash of honey sometimes, or fruit juice to replace some of the vinegar or lemon. I also like to add tamari and grated ginger for an Asian flavor, or to use as a marinade for vegetables, tempeh and tofu, or even fish. If you are using a sweetener for a marinade for a dish which will be cooked, use rice syrup or maple syrup instead of honey. Try rice wine vinegar for fish dishes and light vegetable salads.

For you garlic lovers, garlic can be crushed and rubbed around the inside of your salad bowl, or added right into the vinaigrette itself. Some people like the taste of shallots in place of garlic, especially when they are using a sherry vinegar.

I find the flavor of lemon makes salt an unnecessary addition to a vinaigrette, but a dash of salt and pepper or cayenne can also bring out the flavor of the foods it is dressing.

In the summer, I add freshly minced green herbs into the salad bowl directly or garnished very liberally over main courses, side dishes, vegetables and of course, salads. In the winter, dried herbs are crushed right into the vinaigrette itself.

Some favorite green herbs would be: tarragon, parsley, oregano, marjoram, anise hyssop, lemon balm, basil of course, and even mint for any fish dish, green beans or peas is a welcome contrasting flavor. Actually, I've never met a culinary herb I didn't like, and even many medicinal ones could be used in a salad dressing. Unexpected herbs to use may be lavender, or even a few teaspoons of chamomile tea (this would be good in an apple dressing). Edible flowers are another wonderful addition to salads, but that's a story for another day. Certainly if you grow your own herbs, make sure and add those flowers to your salad bowl. These include but are not limited to: lemon balm, basil, thyme, mints, violets (not African violets please), even dandelion flowers would be delicious, torn into little florets, adding their bitter note. Dianthus (known as pinks) are beautiful and taste a bit cinnaminty. My favorite herb flower to add to salads, is my anise hyssop.

Freshly grated orange, lemon, tangerine or lime peel adds perfume and a lift for many types of vegetables or green salads. It is imperative that you ONLY use the peels of organic citrus fruits to avoid ingesting pesticides. Almost all citrus fruit is coated with a chemical wax coating to prolong shelf life and is NOT a desirable addition to any meal!

Any of those fruits, juiced, as well, would add a lovely citrus note to the dressing. Fruits like mango or peaches have a tart note that would blend well in a vinaigrette. Even sweet fruits like persimmon or guava, would add interest and deep flavor in a vinaigrette because of their strong perfumed flavor, needing a squeeze of lemon for balance, and to bring out the flavors beyond their sweetness.

Flower waters, such as rose or orange are also a welcome addition. These are expensive, however, since only a dash or two is needed to add their perfume to a dressing or sauce, they will last a long time if the balance of the bottle is stored in a dark cool pantry closet.

Other welcome additions into a vinaigrette or the dish the vinaigrette is dressing are: olives, capers, ground or chopped nuts- raw or roasted such as pine nuts, cashews, almonds, pistachio nuts, walnuts & pecans or peanuts for an Asian salad. And of course, if you eat dairy foods, there are many cheeses which are delicious on salads, whether they are side dish salads or the main course.

If you want a creamy vinaigrette, without adding dairy or mayonnaise to your dressing, try adding a tablespoon of tahini or almond butter. Start the dressing with the nut butter first, thinning it a bit with a tablespoon of water added in at a time, until the consistency is somewhat thinned. Then add your oil and vinegar or lemon, keeping in mind, that you need much less oil & vinegar here, than for a regular vinaigrette. Grated ginger is a welcome counterpoint to the richness of the nut butter. A dressing like this is good on heartier salad greens or falafel sandwiches, cooked bean salads or grain salads and veggie burgers. 

I usually dress my salads just before serving, unless it is something which benefits from long marinating. Cooked beets can stand up to marinating for 12-24 hours if they are chopped into large pieces. Delicate greens are always best dressed dry and just before serving. Damp or wet greens, tend to go limp fairly quickly.

Have fun making up dressings & additions to your salads depending on the time of year, or the foods you are serving.

May you enjoy healthful and delicious meals, to bring joy into your body & your life and those for whom you cook your foods. Add love and you have a feast for all of the senses!

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