Early spring salads are so delicate that they only need the lightest and freshest of dressings. I love to make a salad from tiny baby lettuces and arugula, fresh herbs, and shallot scapes. The addition of a little goat cheese, cracked peppercorns, a few strawberries and toasted pecans is welcome, too!
If you learn how to make a vinaigrette, you can make a perfect salad dressing or marinade for anything. Vinaigrettes are all about balancing the basic ingredients of oil and an acid such as citrus juice or vinegar. The basic ratio is about one part citrus or vinegar (i.e. acid) to three parts oil. That is the secret! That and using high quality, fresh ingredients.
The most basic vinaigrette is made from 3/4 cup EVOO and 1/4 wine or balsamic vinegar. Common additions are a little dijon mustard, a minced clove of garlic or shallot, a spoonful of fresh, minced herbs, and salt and pepper. But there are so many other ways to make a vinaigrette shine! In place of the vinegar, use a citrus such as lemon or lime juice. I like a hint of sweetness, so I always add a spoonful of raw sugar, brown sugar, or local honey. Expand your repetoire by changing the type of oil or acid. Try a grapeseed oil with white balsamic vinegar for a very light, delicate dressing. Or a really fruity olive oil with lemon or orange juice. Add one herb–such as thyme–to concentrate the flavor of the dressing–or a few herbs to add depth, and you have a whole new dressing. It’s a great way to play with chemistry in the kitchen. Blend in a couple of chopped anchovies and some feta crumbles, and you will have a conversation piece! Don’t use vinaigrettes just for salads…they also make wonderful marinades for seafood, pork, lamb and chicken. Get creative!
Here’s one of my favorite, light vinaigrettes. It works as well for a lamb or chicken marinade as it does for a simple salad.
3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme, minced
1 tablespoon honey (preferably local)
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
½ cup grapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a small Mason jar, add all of the ingredients. Cover and shake until the vinaigrette is well blended and emulsified. Taste on a lettuce leaf and then correct the seasonings (it might need a bit more vinegar or honey) and add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!