Now that the weather has finally made up its mind and as days begin to warm up, we welcome beautiful, seasonal produce in our market stalls. Baby lettuces, arugula, onion sprouts, radicchio, asparagus, assorted radishes, miniature beets and mustard greens are but some of the myriad varieties available today.
Picture this: A beautiful bowl brimming full of baby lettuces, yellow pear tomatoes, delicate garlic sprouts, toasted walnuts, orange sections, Gorgonzola chunks and gorgeous nasturtium flowers in orange and red hues. A hand reaches out for something to dress this dainty dish—stop! Please, not that bottled glob from a jar!
Dressings and vinaigrettes are meant to add flavor and to enhance the natural taste of salads, not to overcome them with heavy concoctions of sugary and pasty, or watery and bland toppings. Preparing vinaigrette is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time, nor does it require special equipment to produce one; a simple little bowl and a whisk will do—even a screw top jar will work.
In essence, vinaigrette is nothing more than the marriage between an acid and oil. With the extensive array of both available today, the sky is the limit when it comes to the possible combination.
Classic vinaigrettes are made with 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio; however, I find that cutting down the oil by half is very reasonable and still produces wonderful flavor. Below are just a few vinegars and oils that you can combine in random order to make delicious vinaigrettes. Just remember these few pointers:
Always add salt or sugar and spices directly to the acid before adding the oil or they will never dissolve.
Add oil in a very thin stream while whisking constantly to achieve emulsification (the marriage between oil and vinegar molecules that hold them together).
Add natural emulsifiers such as mustard, egg yolks, mayonnaise, etc. before adding the oil.
Add flavored vinegars such as walnut, sesame or hazelnut, at the end of the process; begin with canola or another unflavored oil. This is done to cut cost and so that the dressing is not too strong.
Make double and triple batches and keep, refrigerated until ready to use (let that be the jar you reach for instead). Bring to room temperature before using.
Acids: citrus juices (lemon, orange, tangerine, lime), vinegars (red, white wine, cider, rice, balsamic, champagne, sherry, malt and fruit, etc.)
Oils: Olive, Canola, Sesame, Walnut, Hazelnut, Vegetable, Avocado, herb-infused, etc.
Other flavorings: honey, chopped shallots, garlic, herbs, capers, anchovies, etc.
©Copyright. Sandra Gutierrez, 2007. All rights reserved.