Monday, July 23, 2007

Let’s Dress Those Salads

I am following up my previous post on salads with one on salad dressings. Salad dressings usually contain oil along with either vinegar or a dairy product like buttermilk or mayonnaise. Most times an emulsifier is used. An emulsifier is a binding agent that works to keep the dressing uniformly mixed. We have all seen how an oil and vinegar separates as it sits for a while. If you use an emulsifier, like lemon juice or Dijon mustard it will help keep the dressing to stay blended.

People have been using dressings for thousands of years. The Chinese have been using soy sauce as a dressing for as far back as 5,000 years ago. Oil and vinegar dressings date back to the Babylonians 2,000 years ago. Commercial dressings were introduced to the market in the early 1920’s (Hellman’s Mayonnaise in 1912; Marzetti dressing in 1919; and Kraft brands in 1925).

Basic Vinaigrette
The two main components of the basic vinaigrette are oil and vinegar. You can use any type of oil or vinegar. Since the standard ratio for vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part vinegar, use the best quality oil that you have on hand. Whether it is vegetable oil, olive oil, canola oil or a nut oil like walnut or hazelnut it does not matter, but it is the main ingredient so quality does matter. I usually use balsamic, wine, fruited or herbed vinegar with the oil. If you are looking to make a delicate vinaigrette, rice wine vinegar is a great option. You can dress it up with fresh herbs, minced shallots or garlic and a bit of mustard.

Makes 1 cup

1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1-2 Tablespoons of minced fresh herbs, try parsley, basil and thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

In a mixing bowl, add the garlic, herbs, salt and a few turns of the peppermill to the vinegar. Whisk in the mustard. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, allowing oil to blend with the vinegar mixture before adding more. This can also be done in a food processor or blender. Allow the vinaigrette to rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature to let the flavors blend. Mix again before serving.

Ranch Dressing
One of America’s favorites, this dressing is commonly used as a dip as frequently as it is a dressing. The Hidden Valley Dude Ranch in California created ranch dressing and sold its Hidden Valley Ranch dressing to the Clorox company in the 1970’s for $8 million. Ranch dressing consists of buttermilk, mayonnaise, green onions, fresh parsley and spices. A recipe for a copy of Hidden Valley’s hit, although I would leave the MSG out.,1715,148171-235206,00.html

Bleu Cheese
Similar to ranch dressing, this creamy dressing is often associated with buffalo wings. My favorite recipe is from Joy of Cooking and is best I believe if it sits for a couple of hours:

Makes 2 cups

1 cup mayonnaise 1/2 cup sour cream1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar1 teaspoon minced garlic6 dashes Worcestershire sauceSalt and ground black pepper to tastePinch of ground red pepper, or to taste
4 ounces bleu cheese, Roquefort or other good quality cheese

Puree everything but the cheese in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add and process to the desired consistency, taste and adjust the seasonings. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate.

Thousand Island
Another creamy creation, this dressing has a mayonnaise base and usually includes chili sauce with chopped pickles, green olives, green peppers, onions and occasionally hard boiled eggs. It was created by a fisherman and his wife in upstate New York, an area with a thousand islands who offered guided fishing day tours. They gave the recipe to a local hotel owner, who in turn gave the recipe to the owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC. From there its popular has grown world wide.
There are so many varieties and variations of dressings. The concept is really easy and I would love to hear about your favorites and any recipes that you just love.

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