Salad dressing is easy to make

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NEW YORK – In a country where people routinely purchase premade versions of easy-to-make foods like croutons (seasoned toast), pancake mix (flour and baking powder) and even pre-buttered garlic bread, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they also unthinkingly squander money on sugared-up, bottled salad dressings.

Look at the labels of brand-name dressings and, almost invariably, a prominent ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup.

Making your own salad dressing is embarrassingly easy – and cheaper than buying it in the store. Of course, preparing vinaigrette every day could become a nuisance, especially, if, like me, you often forget to make it until the last minute when hot food is already on the table.

My solution: Make big batches of the stuff and store it in wine bottles or mason jars.

There’s no end to the dressings you can make. Novices might begin by preparing classic French vinaigrette, which is the mother lode for so many dressings. The key is to strike the proper balance among acid (vinegar, lemon juice), sweetness and viscosity (olive oil) and spicy (mustard, black pepper, hot pepper).

It goes without saying that the better the ingredients, the more flavorful the results.

Start small. A tossed green salad for four calls for about 11/2 teaspoons mustard, 2 to 3 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, salt and pepper. Whisk together all the ingredients except the oil; when blended, drizzle in the oil while continuing to whisk. Keep in mind that salad dressings, like hand-sewn Amish quilts, are never exactly alike even though the components are the same. Taste, taste, taste.

That accomplished, the fun begins.

We are coming into the season of fresh herbs, so experiment at will. It requires a lot of hard work and concentration to foul up vinaigrette — and if you manage to succeed in doing so, making corrections is merely a matter of boosting the flavor that’s missing.

Fresh herbs can’t be beat, but dried ones work, too. Just remember that dried herbs are roughly twice as strong as fresh, because the moisture has been removed. For starters, consider fresh tarragon, thyme, rosemary, mint, chervil, dill and parsley.

If you don’t have access to fresh herbs in the off-season, look for a widely available dried-herb mix from France called Herbes de Provence, sold in a small clay crock. Commercial flavored oils and vinegars are good, but pricey for what you get.

I love garlic, but I infrequently add raw garlic to dressings that I plan to store. When the garlic is left to steep in olive oil, especially at room temperature, nasty things can happen. Vegetables and herbs that grow on or under the ground are likely to contain tiny fragments of soil. This soil, if placed in an anaerobic environment such as a container of oil, can generate botulism. But botulism can’t grow in the presence of acid, like vinegar, so vinaigrettes should be fine.

The recipes below are more guidelines than dictates. For a softer, less biting dressing, you can substitute rice vinegar or cider vinegar. The balsamic vinegars found in supermarkets, while not authentic, still add a pleasant, woody sweetness (the better ones have “Modena” on the label). In the recipes below, fresh herbs are steeped in warm olive oil to release their flavors.

A vinaigrette-style dressing is good for as long as two months. I like to store salad dressings in wine bottles; it’s classier than bringing a mason jar to the table.

A word of warning: Clearly label bottles in the fridge that contain dressing. More than once I have poured a thick, lumpy vinaigrette cocktail into a dinner guest’s wine goblet.



Tarragon-Grapefruit Vinaigrette

11/2 cups olive oil

3/4 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, stemmed, chopped, or 1/2 tablespoon dried

21/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2/3 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice (sweeter pink or red are best), or to taste

In a small pot, combine over low heat the olive oil, canola oil and tarragon. Heat the oil just short of bubbling. Remove from heat and set aside for at least 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the work bowl of a kitchen mixer or a hand-held mixer, combine the mustard, salt, black pepper and 1 tablespoon of grapefruit juice.

Begin whisking on slow setting. Drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the oil, then more of the grapefruit juice. Repeat in that order, tasting for balance as you go along, until the oil and grapefruit juice are exhausted. Cut with a little red-wine vinegar if it needs a boost of acidity. Taste for seasonings.

Using a funnel, transfer dressing to a standard 750-milliliter wine bottle (or a Mason jar). Seal securely and refrigerate. (New screw-cap bottles are best for this.) Refrigerate. Remove 15 minutes before using, and shake very well. Lasts at least a month refrigerated.

Makes about 2 cups.



This versatile dressing is ideal for fruit salads of all kinds. It’s also good with grilled fruits. Because it is sweet, a little goes a long way.

Mango, Lime and Fresh Ginger Dressing

2 ripe mangoes, peeled, flesh sliced off

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (dried is too harsh)

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

Juice of 2 limes

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and white pepper to taste

6 tablespoons plain yogurt

In a blender, combine all ingredients except the yogurt. Puree until smooth.

Add the yogurt and puree. Taste — it should be smooth and moderately sweet. Store in an airtight jar for up to two weeks.

Makes about 2 cups.



Spring Lemon and Rosemary Dressing

11/2 cups olive oil

3/4 cups canola oil

1/3 cup loosely packed whole rosemary leaves, chopped finely (or 1 tablespoon dried)

21/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2/3 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup red-wine vinegar, or as needed

In a medium pot, combine over low heat the olive oil, canola oil and rosemary. Heat the oil to just short of bubbling. Remove from heat and set aside for at least 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the work bowl of a kitchen mixer or a hand-held mixer, combine the mustard, salt, black pepper, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and the lemon zest.

Begin whisking on slow setting. Slowly drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the oil. Whisk in 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Repeat, alternating oil and lemon juice (taste for balance as you go along) until both are exhausted. Cut with a little red-wine vinegar if more acid is needed. Taste for seasonings.

Use a funnel to transfer contents to a standard 750-milliliter bottle (or a Mason jar). Be sure to scrape in everything from the bottom of the bowl. Seal securely. (New screw-cap bottles are best for this.) Refrigerate. Remove 15 minutes before using. Shake well. Store in an airtight jar for a month.

Makes about 21/2 cups.

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