Thursday, January 20, 2011

Honey Balsamic Salad Dressing

Have you vowed to eat better in the new year? Does that include adding salad to the dinner menu? Do the chemicals and preservatives in bottled salad dressings make you squeamish?

An oil-and-vinegar based salad dressing is one of the simplest things you can make. At its most basic, it’s three parts fat to one part acid. From there, you can improvise, using different oils and different acids.

After you’ve experimented with simple oil and vinegar combinations, you can substitute lemon or lime juice for vinegar, and you can add herbs and other flavorings to create a new salad dressing every day of the week.

Since oil and vinegar don’t want to stay mixed, many dressings include an ingredient that helps them emulsify. The simplest ingredient to add is a bit of mustard. In this case, I added dried mustard, but a bit of any prepared mustard would work just as well. 

It takes seconds to mix a salad dressing for a few salads – just put the ingredients in a jar and shake. The oil and vinegar will combine and the dressing will thicken. If you’re making a lot of salad dressing, you can mix it in a blender or food processor. In that case, start with the acidic ingredient in the blender and drizzle the oil in slowly.

No blender? You can use do the same thing with a big bowl and whisk – it takes a little more effort, but it’s still a simple process.

The great thing about making your own dressings is that you use flavors that complement your meal. No need to have a collection of bottled dressings on your refrigerator door – make what you like when you need it.

To get you started, here’s a simple recipe that has a nice tartness balanced by the sweetness of the honey. It makes about 1/4 cup of dressing – enough to lightly dress up to four dinner salads, or drench one larger salad. It packs a lot of flavor and clings well to the salad, so you don’t need to use a lot.

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled if you’re feeding a crowd or you just want to have more on hand to use several days in a row. Refrigerate what you’re not using right away. The oil might harden in the refrigerator, so take it out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you serve, and give it a good shake if it needs to be emulsified again.

Honey Balsamic Salad Dressing

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (optional*)

Combine all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Stir first, to get the honey incorporated, then shake to combine. You’ll feel the dressing thicken as it emulsifies and thickens.

*The mayonnaise is optional, but produces a slightly creamier dressing. You can leave it out entirely, or substitute sour cream or yogurt for the mayonnaise, if you prefer.