Writer and permaculture enthusiast Emma Cooper & her husband Pete came to us for a very enjoyable visit last year. We had lunch which included roast chicken, roasted pumpkin sourdough bread and a foraged salad.
Emma asked me afterwards for the method for making the dressing. It’s taken me a while, but here’s the recipe for the basic vinaigrette I made.
The aim is to have home-grown or foraged salad every week of the year.
A good choice of dressings help to make the most of the harvest.
The word comes from the French for ‘sour-wine’ – ‘vin-aigre’. The essence of the dressing is the vinegar or citrus juice flavours the leaves. You combine the vinegarwith oil to help it ‘stick’ to the salad ingredients.
If you’re interested to know how to make this, read on…
First a bit of theory. Skip this if you just want to get to the recipe.
The idea behind the vinaigrette is that the vinegar (or citrus juice) helps to flavour the salad ingredients in a way that complements and enhances their flavour. The vinegar itself will not ‘stick’ to the salad easily by itself. However, the oil can only do this if the salad ingredients are dry (oil and water don’t mix easily). So what you do to make a vinaigrette is make a water in oil emulsion.
You shake the ‘water’ (vinegar or citrus juice) to make it into small droplets that will not coalesce for a while. If you add mustard, garlic or herbs the emulsion is easier to form and will last longer.
The picture at the top is a bottle of vinaigrette I’ve made and shaken well to emulsify the ingredients. The one below is how it settles out into layers of the various ingredients.
The basic ingredients are oil and vinegar or a citrus juice. It’s obvious that the flavour and quality of the ingredients you use directly affect the taste of the finished article.
Some people prefer not to use a highly flavoured extra-virgin olive oil because they feel the flavour overwhelms. So many people use a lightly flavoured sunflower or rape seed oil which is more neutral. Experiment by tasting a teaspoon of the oils or making up a little oil & vinegar to see. In the end, trial & testing with different salads is a real help.
In the books and online, there’s a number of different ratios of vinegar to oil that you will see. My own preference is to start with 1 to 3 and then adjust ingredients as necessary.
Other seasonings and flavouring ingredients can also be included such as:
- Fresh or dried herbs
You can choose the vinegar or citrus juice to match the ingredients in the salad or the ingredients in the dish the salad might go with. I particularly like to use tarragon infused white wine vinegar in dressing for salads to go with fish and chicken.
Here’s a basic method to make a nice dressing for a big mixed summer salad.
It makes more than enough for the salad, so keep some in a jar in the fridge so you’ll always have some to hand. I make up 500ml at a time as you can see from the pictures.
2 tbsp vinegar (wine or cider, not malt)
6 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely grated or crushed and mashed to a paste with some of the salt
1 tsp Dijon (or other) mustard
Sea salt & black pepper to taste
In the bottle pictured, I used basic olive oil and my home-made apple cider vinegar. The recipe for the vinegar is in this post.
Combine all the ingredients in a screw top jar. Put the lid on tight and shake vigorously until the dressing emulsifies. Have a taste and make corrections if you feel you need to and shake again.
Dressing your salad
As I said, for your dressings to ‘stick’ to your ingredients, the ingredients need to be well dried.
Here’s how to do this well.
Drain your ingredients well if you’ve washed them. Pat them dry in a tea towel or give a good spin in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a spinner and want to improvise, pop the ingredients in a tea towel. Pull the corners of the towel up to make a little pouch and swing it back and forward sharply. You’ll do the same as in a spinner. Obviously, it’s best to do this outside or in the bath.
Pop you ingredients in a bowl, platter or plate. Spoon or carefully tip out a little of the dressing and give the ingredients a gentle mix using your hands or salad servers. You are aiming to just coat the ingredients, not to drown them. If the coating is not quite uniform, add a little more until it is just right.
If you have some favourite variations, let me know what they are in the comments.