Salad dressing pulls it all together. You can make a big flavor statement with your dressing OR you can shake up a simple mix of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper (and a little mustard) that will make your salad taste phenomenal.
The standard oil-and-vinegar dressing is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Somewhre around 2:1 to 3:1 is the ratio where balance is achieved between what many people find too oily or too sharp and acidic. You can start at 3:1 and vary from there.
A tiny bit of helpful science: Oil and vinegar, or anything else water-based, like lemon juice, don’t really mix. When you shake them together, the oil is broken up into little droplets that float in the vinegar. This is called an emulsion, and it will separate back pretty quick, in a few minutes, as the oil pulls itself back together. So if you don’t eat your salad fast, the vinegar will soon drip to the bottom of the bowl, leaving just the oil on the leaves. Luckily, there are emulsifiers, ingredients that coat the droplets so they don’t hook up as quickly. Mustard, for one, helps with this, include some and you’ll have a better mixing, longer-lasting, tastier dressing.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and you have a basic oil-and-vinegar, also known as a vinaigrette. That’s your basic salad dressing making skill.
Tasting tip: Try by dipping a leaf instead of your finger, that gives a better idea of the final effect.
Oil: Extra virgin olive oil is a good beginning. extra-virgin oil, sesame, almond, walnut for flavor. light to neutral: canola, grapeseed, safflower, sunflower, peanut (some). You can mix in large parts, or add a few drops of one to another.
Acid: Vinegar brings an acidic bite to salad dressing, which means that anything else that’s acidic can also be used. Lemon and other citrus fruit juices work. Get creative with different types of vinegar or lemon juice.
Add salt, pepper, smashed garlic, herbs, spices. Substitute maple syrup for a little of the oil. Taste!
Toss with hands. Maybe mix dressing in bowl.
Creamy dressing: For a big change in taste, texture, and appearance from oil-and-vinegar, a creamy dressing is another dressing dimension. For this, think mayonnaise, which at its simplest is one egg to a cup of oil, with a little mustard, salt and vinegar or lemon juice. Caesar dressing is the same mayo combination, with anchovy, garlic, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. A simple ranch dressing is mayonnaise and buttermilk, with garlic and a few fresh herbs like dill and parsley.
Mayonnaise-based: Dressing using a mayonnaise for the base with additional flavorings and liquids like dairy (buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt), acids (vinegar, lemon or lime juice), fruits (tomatoes, olives, berries), vegetables (celery, onions, carrots), condiments (mustard, seasonings, sweeteners, capers), protein (eggs) for a permanent emulsion. Emulsified Vinaigrette: Oil and vinegar vinaigrette emulsified using whole eggs for a creamy permanent emulsion.
That’s it for all the basics you need. You can jump straight to the next lesson. If you’re really getting into it, read on to open up even more salad dimesions, or come back to the rest of this lesson later.
Bonus flavor tutorial
Sweet, sour, salty, bitter. Keep in mind the basic tastes, in general, a really tasty salad will have all of these elements.