I remember the story going something like this: One evening early in my parents’ relationship they were cooking dinner together. My mom said, “I’ll wash the salad if you make the dressing.” My dad looked at her, “Make?” He’d never thought of making dressing, and didn’t know where to begin.
My mother has a delicious vinaigrette recipe, which she promptly taught my dad, who has since then mastered it (though he and I disagree on the amount of herbs he uses). When my sister and I were little, there were always two groups in the kitchen: the prep and clean-up groups. My sister and I were support for our parents and I always preferred being the sous chef over the dishwasher – fancy that! Jobs would rotate and thus my sister and I also learned quickly how to make this dressing.
Vinaigrette is easily adapted – you just add things you like and experiment. If you’re anything like my family, you eat enough salad that it won’t take long for you to figure out your own tweak to the recipe. Sometimes I’ll add a shot of lemon juice or whipping cream, or I’ll leave out the garlic when I’m (gasp!) too lazy to peel it. Other times I’ll leave out the mustard, and I don’t even use dill because it’s not included in my spice rack – shame on me!
But enough of my culinary confessions. Let’s take a moment to talk about ingredients, and especially olive oil. There is a debate going on in the food world about quality ingredients. Now yes, fresh, organic, locally-grown ingredients are best. But that’s not really what I’m talking about here (unless you live in Italy, France, or California and can get local olive oil). Celebrity chefs, who tell you to use the best olive oil available, are making so much money these days with their specialty ingredients and utensils deemed to be of the highest quality. As Adam Roberts, the Amateur Gourmet, discovered in his home experiment, a blind test may surprise you and the cheapest is actually the tastiest. Another example is the discount grocery chain Aldi, whose olive oil is much better ever since Stiftung Wahrentest rated their olive oil so low that Aldi replaced its supplier with a different one and demanded a retest. I pay about four Euros at Lidl for my Bertolli olive oil and I’m happy with it. I know there’s better stuff out there, but this is just fine for me and my wallet.
In the end I figure that you have much more control over any homemade dressing you make and can design it to match your taste, even if you don’t use “top of the line” ingredients. That must be better than any expensive, celebrity-recommended store-bought dressing.
Margit’s Salad Dressing
5 Tbsp Olive Oil (my mother actually uses half sunflower and half olive oil)
1 ½ Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 clove Garlic
1 dash of Oregano (dried)
1 dash of Dill (dried)
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a canning jar with a screw-on lid measure in oil, vinegar, garlic, and herbs*. Start off with small amounts, because you can always add more. Add a knife-tip of mustard, or to taste, and shake the jar vigorously. Taste the dressing and adjust seasonings (usually this involves adding salt and/or vinegar). Store in refrigerator until ready to use. It will hold a couple days chilled, but it won’t last as long as your store-bought varieties.
*If you use fresh herbs, your dressing will thicken, and you will have to recalculate your liquids accordingly.