Q: Why did the tomato blush?
A: Because it saw the salad dressing.
I’ve always loved that joke, partly because it’s about the only punchline that I can remember. But all jokes aside, some people should blush with embarrassment at their salad dressings. Paul Newman, I’m looking at you. Whoever makes the salad dressings at several Wellington restaurants that I’ve visited recently should also take a good look at themselves.
The thing is, you don’t need to be a super chef to make a good salad dressing, but plenty of people do a great job of making bad ones. If in doubt, remember that condensed milk is best saved for baking and that no amount of secret herbs and spices will disguise cheap oil and nasty vinegar. A lot of people ask me how to make a basic vinaigrette (that’s vin-AY-gret, not vinegar-ette – which sounds like the sort of perfume worn by sour little French women) so I’ve devised this handy guide. Here’s how…
How To Make Vinaigrette
Jamie Oliver once put out a special sort of gadget for making salad dressings but all you need is a clean and empty jam jar, or a small bowl and a fork.
You can vary the acid and the oil to suit your preferences, your pantry supplies and what you’re going to use the vinaigrette for. I most often use lemon juice and apple cider or red wine vinegar with extra virgin olive oil. A good pinch of cumin seeds can be a good addition, or finely fresh herbs. If you’re using herbs, the vinaigrette is best used that day. Otherwise it will happily keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
Having a jar of vinaigrette in the fridge makes that after-work dinner dash much easier. Even though it only takes minutes to make, knowing you can pull some salad leaves out of a bag (or the garden) and dress them with something you’ve prepared earlier makes dinner time seem less daunting. I also use vinaigrette on steamed beans and carrots, shredded beetroot and new potatoes.
First, peel a clove of plump, juicy garlic and put it on a chopping board with a good pinch of salt. Using the blade of a knife, crush the clove with the salt to form a smooth paste. Scrape this off the chopping board and put it in a clean, dry jam jar (or a small bowl).
Add a teaspoon of honey (or brown sugar) and a teaspoon of mustard (Dijon for preference, English for wow factor).
Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of vinegar/lemon juice and six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, then screw the lid on the jar and give it a good shake. Taste it for seasoning and sharpness – does it need more salt? more oil? more vinegar? a pinch of sugar to balance the flavours? – before using.
What’s your favourite salad dressing?