“salad dressing is soooo easy.”
i’ve heard this phrase countless times from chefs on tv, cooking class instructors and elsewhere, and never believed it… usually because the statement is followed by instructions to pull out your fresh lemons, finely minced shallots, “high-quality” olive oil and ribbons of fresh herbs — none of which i have in stock, basically ever.
but then, on a work assignment, i got schooled on the easy peasyness of making salad dressing. i met a bunch of rowdy fourth graders from a local elementary school that were lucky to participate in a three-day program called days of taste, which takes professional chefs into the classroom to talk about healthy food and good flavor. the kids even take a field trip to a local organic farm and pick fresh peppers and radishes. (i have never seen kids go so freaking nuts over vegetables.) back in the classroom, the kids make their own vinaigrette and assemble a salad with weird ingredients like watermelon radishes and frisee under the chef’s guidance.
we made a video about it for the horizon foundation.
when i saw that vinaigrette from scratch was easy enough for fourth graders to do on their own, i decided i should be able to handle it too.
i went home and mimicked what i saw the kids do… and voila. it actually is a bazillion times better than store-bought dressing. and you don’t need foodie-hipster-approved ingredients or fresh items from your nonexistent backyard. and you don’t even really need to be exact about measurements because you can continuously taste and adjust. i typically make it only when i need it and then use it fully, because i hate the way congealed olive oil looks in the fridge, plus i hate that you have to plan in advance to pull it out and let it come back to room temp once you refrigerate it. but you certainly could do that. planning in advance just doesn’t jibe with my way of life.
so here are my very basic ingredients and instructions. they are unconventional and inexact. try not to get confused.
lazy man’s vinaigrette
makes as much as your heart desires, or roughly enough for a big bowl of communal salad
what you need:
- dijon mustard (i prefer this smooth squeezable stuff from wegmans, the happiest place on earth.)
- vinegar (my faves are red wine vinegar or bragg’s apple cider vinegar, which also makes a surprisingly good skincare product)
- olive oil
what you do:
- squeeze a squirt of dijon mustard into a liquid measuring cup (or bowl, but i like the lip on measuring cups, which makes it easy to drizzle the dressing).
- pour enough vinegar to drown the dijon. maybe even a little more than that.
- sprinkle some salt and crack some pepper in there
- add a good spoonful of sugar
- pour in olive oil — about equal to the amount of vinegar you put in.
- use a fork to whisk it all together quickly til it looks unified in a beautiful emulsion (or use a whisk, but forks fit better in small things like measuring cups & they’re easier to clean)
- taste and adjust the proportions to your liking. (i like mine sufficiently sour/tangy and sweet)
- drizzle it on your salad and toss it all together
now if you’re feeling like this is way too lazy and way too simple, please, go wild. if you actually do happen to have unique heirloom lemons growing in your beautifully manicured backyard or plentiful fresh herbs in your window box, i hate you, and please feel free to fancy it up.
some ideas for getting fancy:
- use lemon juice or lime juice instead of vinegar.
- use a drizzle of honey instead of sugar.
- use BOTH lime juice AND honey instead of vinegar and sugar. see what i did there.
- add fresh or dried herbs
- add minced shallots or grated onion
- add red pepper flakes
- add your favorite spice
- add minced garlic
- use balsamic vinegar and add italian herbs
- try ground mustard instead of the smooth kind
- use a flavored vinegar
- use miso + rice vinegar + toasted sesame oil in place of the mustard, vinegar and olive oil.
i usually just stick to the basic lazy man’s version, because it is so simple, i always have the ingredients on hand, and it tastes good. so good, in fact, that i just can’t bring myself to buy bottled dressing anymore (unless it’s the creamy kind because the creamy kind is a whole notha beast).
try it out and see what you think. if a fourth grader can do it, then you can too.