Filed under:

An oak leaf lettuce

Introduction

I love a good vinaigrette or salad dressing, one that barely coats the salad leaves and that has enough acidity to cleanse the palate. But I cannot abide salads where the leaves have been drowned in a sappy mayonnaise soup, something that is all too common in the UK and USA.

A salad needs good leaves. If it is a single variety make it count, e.g. a frisée, butter or oak leaf. Otherwise use a mixture of leaves and add leafy herbs in small quantities.

The classic formula is one part acid to three parts oil, but there is considerable variation depending on the acids and oils you use. So my tip is taste, taste and taste again.

As I write this I realise that I use a lot of different dressings, so I am giving you my two favourites, plus a celebratory dressing that is perfect with an avocado and watercress salad and an oil-free dressing that I reconstructed from the restaurant 't Hofke in Antwerp.

Tips

Water is an excellent emulsifier. A teaspoon or two of water in a dressing helps the salad dressing to form a lighter coating

Taste, taste and taste again

Don't make dressings in bulk and store them. It only takes 2-3 minutes to make, the more often you make them, the better they will be

Walnut, hazlenut and even extra virgin olive oil can be overpowering in a salad dressing. I tend to cut them by at least half with a neutral oil such as sunflower.

Ingredients

Classic French Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon of white wine or cider vinegar
  • 1 scant teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoons olive\walnut or hazlenut oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons of neutral salad oil (I use sunflower)
  • 2 teaspoons of boiling water
  • A pinch of granulated sugar (optional)
  • Salt & finely ground black or white pepper

Italian salad dressing

  • 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of water
  • Salt & finely ground black or white pepper

Strawberry or fresh berry dressing

  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of walnut or hazlenut oil
  • 3 tablespoons of salad oil
  • Handful of fresh berries, blended and strained to remove pips\seeds
  • A pinch of granulated sugar
  • Salt & finely ground black or white pepper

't Hofke salad dressing (oil free)

  • 1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of runny honey
  • 3 tablespoons of yoghurt
  • 2 teaspoons of water
  • Salt & finely ground black or white pepper

Tools of the Trade

  • Bowl and whisk, you can use a blender

Method

Classic French Vinaigrette

Put the vinegar in a bowl and add a pinch of salt, sugar (if using) and finely ground pepper and beat until the salt and sugar have disolved.

Add the mustard and boiling water and whisk until emulsified.

Whisk in the tablespoon of olive\walnut or hazlenut then taste. It should be too acidic. Gradually beat in the salad oil tasting as you go until the balance is right.

Toss the salad leaves with the dressing when you are ready to serve.

Italian salad dressing

This is expecially good with leaves that have more flavour such as oak leaf and frisée.

Finely chop the garlic clove, sprinkle it with a pinch of sea salt then crush it to a pulp with the blade of a knife.

Place the galic and salt pulp in a bowl and beat it with the water, red wine vinegar and a few grindings of finely ground pepper.

Beat in the oil and start to taste before you add the last tablespoon of oil.

Toss the salad leaves with the dressing when you are ready to serve.

Strawberry or fresh berry dressing

Put the lemon juice in a bowl add a pinch of salt, sugar and finely ground pepper then beat until the salt and sugar have disolved. Beat in the strained berries, the walnut or hazlenut oil and a tablespoon of salad oil and taste.

Beat in enough of the rest of the oil until the taste is balanced.

Serve with thinly sliced avocado and watercress. Add chopped walnuts or hazlenuts.

't Hofke salad dressing (Oil free)

Put the raspberry vinegar in a bowl, add a pinch of salt and finely ground pepper then beat until the salt has disolved.

Beat in the water and honey and blend until completely mixed then beat in the yoghurt and taste.

Adjust with more vinegar or honey as necessary.

Suggestion

Tomatoes require no additional acid just oil to dress them. If you are adding tomatoes to a salad use a little extra oil in your dressing as the acid from the tomatoes will sharpen the flavour.