A crisp salad of deep greens, root vegetable garnishes and pickles provides the perfect complement to soups, stews, roasted squash, braised meat or casseroles. The key to memorable salad is homemade dressing. Sadly in this country we have embraced the convenience, unhealthful and overly sweetened versions of pre-made dressings. I remember visiting France as a young cook and watching everyone I met whip up a fresh vinaigrette with their nightly salads. I hope to convince you to embrace this easy and delicious tradition that will make you want to eat more salads because they taste so much better with the “real” dressings.
Classic vinaigrettes (oil and vinegar blended) are a ratio of one part vinegar to three parts oil and can be used in green or grain salads and as a flavorful marinade for meat. My go-to winter salad dressing is a Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette in which I use a bit more vinegar than the classic ratio. There are so many types of vinegar and oil that the combinations are only limited by your creativity. The vinegar component can also be substituted for any acid like fruit juices, pickling juices, etc. Oils derived from nuts like walnut or hazelnut add another level of flavor complexity. Make sure that you know if your guests have a nut allergy before considering these options. I always include a touch of Dijon mustard in my vinaigrettes to aid in stabilizing the emulsification. This version has more mustard as it is the primary flavor.
You might consider experimenting with adding a splash of sweetness like agave, maple syrup or honey to soften the vinegar. Some chefs also use a splash of white wine to broaden the overall flavor. Most important, sample your dressings with the salad greens they will dress so you will know how it will taste in the salad.
Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette
• 5 oz. safflower oil
• 1/2 large shallot, minced
• 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
• Salt, to taste
• Black peppercorns, freshly ground
• 3 oz. rice vinegar
1. Whisk shallots, spices and mustard with vinegar to distribute.
2. Drizzle in oil at a slow even pace to emulsify dressing.
3. Lightly toss with dark green veggies.
Suggestions for salad:
• Lacinato kale, destemmed and cut into ribbons
• Baby kale
• Fennel, thin julienne
• Pepperoncini, thin slices
• Turnip, peeled, julienne
• Cucumber, thinly sliced
• Radish, thinly sliced
• Scallions, thinly sliced on angle
• Garnish herbs such as fennel frond, fresh dill
Manda Hudak is the Savory Chef Instructor at The Culinary Institute of Montana at Flathead Valley Community College. She is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. For more information about the program, visit www.culinaryinstituteofmt.com.