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Basic Vinaigrette


The outdoor Farmers Markets have begun and we are enjoying the first greens of the season. My favorites are the mixed baby greens or mesclun mixes. The young greens pack a lot of flavor and you get a wide variety of flavors with all the different leaves.

Don’t ruin these delicious salads by drowning them with generic bottled dressing. There are some wonderful locally-made salad dressings readily available at most grocery stores in the Berkshires. Hopkins Inn Dressing made in Warren CT is a light creamy vinaigrette derived from a blend of fresh herbs and vegetables. Their House Dressing is delicious on greens and also great on cold pasta salads. Another one of our family favorites is Krazy for Kazu Japanese Style Ginger dressing which is made in the tiny town of Falls Village CT.

If you like to vary the flavor of your salads, just learn the easy recipe for a basic vinaigrette: one part vinegar to three parts oil. Combine 1 tablespoon vinegar with 3 tablespoons olive oil and you are set to toss that salad!

To make sure that you don’t end up with oily greens and a pile of vinegar at the bottom of your salad, you need to emulsify the vinaigrette. An emulsified vinaigrette clings to all the leaves making a perfectly dressed salad. The simplest way to do this is to put the ingredients in a small mason jar, cover tightly and shake-shake-shake until the ingredients are emulsified. What’s best about using small mason jars is that you can use them to store any leftover dressing.

Give it a brisk vigorous agitation! If you find that your dressings are not emulsifying well add a teaspoon of honey or Dijon-style mustard. These ingredients add great flavor and also help stabilize the dressing holding the vinegar droplets suspended in the oil. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and voila! – you have a vinaigrette perfect for an arugula salad topped with shaved parmesan.

You can change the flavor by using different vinegars such as rice, sherry, white balsamic or apple cider vinegar. Or experiment with the wide variety of oils available on most supermarket shelves. I usually use extra virgin olive oil but it is fun to try some of the more exotic nut oils such as walnut or pecan. After opening, nut oils should be stored in your fridge as they can become rancid when stored too long at room temperature. When using flavored oils mix a small batch to test the flavoring or try a combination of olive oil and nut oil to just give a hint of the nutty flavor.

Make your own Asian-style dressing with rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame seed oil and a dash of soy sauce. Add some grated fresh ginger and a half teaspoon minced garlic then top the salad with some chopped scallions and sesame seeds. This recipe is also delicious served over grilled vegetables or fish.

The combinations are endless! Add your favorite chopped fresh herbs, a teaspoon of minced shallot or even some curry. Be creative and make sure you write down your favorites so you remember the recipe the next time!