Wednesday, April 27, 2011

First Salad of 2011

Look what we had for dinner last night!  The first BBQ dinner outside on the patio deserved a special treat.  A  salad of home grown lettuce and spicy mesclun mix with a vinaigrette was perfect.

Gently picking the outer leaves off the little lettuce plants.
Aerial view of the spicy mesclun mix - after picking a few leaves for the salad.
I've become a big fan of oil and vinegar dressings or should I say vinaigrettes.  They can be as simple or complex as you'd like.  They can be sweet and fruity or tangy and savoury.  And best of all, they don't require a recipe!  Use your imagination and follow a few simple principles and you're good to go.
Tid Bits I've Learned about Vinaigrettes

  • Stick to a 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar ratio.  No matter what type of oil, what type of vinegar or what other ingredients you add, this ratio is the magic formula for great vinaigrettes.
  • Try mixing different oils with different vinegars.  
  • Don't get stuck on using only Extra Virgin Olive Oil, sure it's good but why not try canola oil, flax oil, hemp oil, walnut oil, etc.  In fact, try mixing a couple of different varieties together.  For example in the salad above I mixed canola oil with hemp oil.
  • Try using different flavours of vinegar.  In our cupboard right now we have red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar and white vinegar.  I choose the type of vinegar based the final flavour I'm looking for and on the colour.  For example a nice balsamic vinegar gives a nice sweetness to a spinach and strawberry salad, but that dark colour might not work for a salad with cauliflower or other whites.
  • Use a little lemon juice, lime juice or orange juice to substitute for part of the vinegar.  
  • Keeping the oil and vinegar from separating is tricky - the two really don't like each other.  Keep whisking, blending or shaking until the very last moment before serving.  Adding a little mustard or honey will also help keep the emulsion from separating too quickly.
  • Honey adds a little sweetness, cuts the acid from the vinegar and helps keep the oil and vinegar emulsion together a little longer.
  • Add fresh or dried herbs like thyme, oregano, parsely, chives, cilantro, basil, etc. to your vinaigrette for even more variety.  Some crushed garlic is also a nice addition in hearty salads.
  • For sweet vinaigrettes I like adding a bit of homemade jams or jellies.  I like the flavour and colour it provides, especially in a salad with fruit.
  • A little salt and freshly ground pepper are part of every vinaigrette I make. 
  • The best way to test your vinaigrette is by dipping a piece of lettuce in your mix, rather than tasting it straight off a spoon.

So, no recipe for you!  Go ahead and experiment.  If it doesn't work, you can always try again tomorrow, cause you know your going to be eating a lot of lettuce in the next month or so!


gypsysmom said...

I always liked using a little bit of sesame oil in the vinaigrette, especially if you are trying for an Asian influence.

Getty Stewart said...

Great idea. I'm always amazed at how much flavour you get from just a touch of sesame oil.