‘Tis the season for salads! We’ve given you the base (greens), now it’s your turn to make the salads interesting and fun with different dressings and toppings. You can add all sorts of tasty things to the top of a salad (bacon, roasted nuts, dried fruit, chopped sugar snap peas, chopped chicken breast, crumbled goat cheese), but good salad greens are also good without toppings.
However, salads are not good without dressing. And, for good reason. Did you know that the combination of fat (oil, mayo, yogurt) and acid (vinegar, lemon juice) in dressings actually helps you to digest raw greens? Plus, it helps you to eat more, which is always a good thing. So, even if you are on a diet, we recommend that you always dress your greens for the sake of eating pleasure and good digestion.
So, dress them with what? Obviously, you can experiment by buying different dressings at the store, but we’ve found that making our own salad dressings is easy (especially once we got into the habit of keeping the appropriate ingredients in stock). After getting in the habit of making our own, we now balk at the price of prepared dressings (as well as at the ingredients list: so many sugars and preservatives!).
In our house, we like our salad dressings light and simple, and we prefer to toss our greens with dressing rather than pouring it over at the table (we find that the table application is never even, and some bites end up too covered and some end up dry).
We make our dressing fresh each time we eat a salad, and it’s super easy: into a small mason jar (the kind you would use for canning jam), add one part balsamic or other quality vinegar; three or four parts quality olive oil; salt and pepper to taste; one crushed garlic clove, minced onion, or minced garlic scapes. If you have it on hand, you can substitute some fresh lemon juice for part of the vinegar. If you like, you can also add a dash of Dijon mustard.
Put on lid and shake well (for best results in emulsification, add the oil to the other ingredients in batches, shaking well between each new addition). Before serving, pour dressing over your salad in a large bowl and toss with your (clean) hands until the salad is lightly and evenly coated. If you would like to serve “arranged” salads, dress the lettuce and then transfer it to plates and arrange toppings on top.
Many more delicious (and more complex) dressing recipes can be found in good cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking — including the wide range of creamy dressings that use sour cream, mayonnaise and/or yogurt as a fat base. You can also simply experiment with different oils, vinegars and herbs combined in these basic proportions. We stick with what’s easy for us, but you might enjoy branching out and expanding your pantry’s list of in-stock ingredients!