A Useful Salad Dressing

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that our dinner table is rarely short of a salad. There are few meals I feel aren’t improved by a fresh, crunchy salad, and it’s rarely any effort at all to throw one together whilst someone lays the table, your meat rests, your sauce finishes reducing or whatever else is going on after the flurry of preparation that has taken place previously.

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One thing that can help enormously is having a bottle or jar of pre-mixed salad dressing there on the counter, ready to shake up and use at a moment’s notice. Of course, lots of nice ready-made dressings are available from the shops (what post-90s British Childhood would have been complete without a bottle of Pizza Express House Dressing in the fridge? My mouth is watering just thinking about it now) but, like with almost all preparatory ingredients, what you make will be fresher, will use fewer ingredients (i.e. fewer preservatives) and, in all likelihood, large corporations not being renowned for spending money where they don’t need to, will use better ingredients, even if they’re fairly bog-standard.

This recipe is for a very basic french dressing, in the form of a honey and mustard vinaigrette, but the proportions used (i.e. 5:1 oil:acid) can provide the basis for almost infinite combinations of ingredients and flavours, and the possibilities are only limited by what you’re able to imagine.

The dressing can sit happily at room temperature and, whilst it’s probably best in its first three days, really lasts for ages given a chance. It’s absolutely safe in this instance to let smell and taste be your guide. With the below quantities though, if you’re making daily salads, it’ll never get particularly old.

You will need:

  • 250ml extra virgin olive oil – one that’s palatable on its own, but probably not the most expensive one in the shop.
  • 50ml white wine vinegar
  • 1 heaped tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 heaped tsp runny honey
  • salt and pepper

Either stick a funnel in bottle with a fitting lid (I use a rubber-sealed swing-top bottle) or find a clean screw-top jar.

Add a generous pinch of salt, and a grind or two of pepper, the vinegar, then the rest of the ingredients (if you’re using a funnel, add the honey and mustard after the vinegar and wash it through with the oil).

Put the lid tightly onto your chosen vessel, and shake, until you get a uniform colour; probably a pale, appealing gold. Taste, and adjust the quantities to your own preferences.

Dress your salad with enough dressing that all leaves are coated, but there’s no dressing pooled at the bottom of the bowl. Serve.

In terms of variations, go wild: Add any herbs you like, finely chopped for soft herbs, or whole stems for hard, to infuse the dressing; use lemon juice in place of all or some of the vinegar; use another type of vinegar, like cider, red wine, balsamic or tarragon; mix in some creme fraiche, yoghurt or double cream for a richer dressing; season with any spices you think might be at home in your dressing, perhaps toasting them first; use any oil or combination of oils you like. Walnut, cold-pressed rapeseed, walnut, almond, argan, sesame (sparingly) or pretty much anything you can imagine will work in some context or other.

NB If you add anything perishable to the dressing, you may need to keep it in the fridge, or simply accept that it’s only any good prepared fresh (I find this is the case when using lemon juice). The ratio of oil to acid should work nicely in any quantity though, so if you only needed a small quantity, 100ml of oil and 20ml of (for example) lemon juice would work just fine.

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