That question is the first one everyone asks when my family gets together for a big dinner. I don’t mean to brag, but if the answer is me, then everyone bellies up to the bar. If the answer is my Aunt Tildy, everyone backs away.
Now Aunt Tildy is a good cook. Usually. But she uses bottled dressing on the salads she brings. That is so old school.
My mom always made homemade salad dressing so I never tasted bottled dressing until I was old enough to eat at friends’ homes. The first time I had lettuce doused with thick white glop supposedly from a ranch, I thought I would barf.
Another friend’s mom served pink glop in a bottle. Eventually I learned that salad dressing didn’t come from thousands of islands or ranches but from big food manufacturers more interested in the bottom line than in using fresh, natural ingredients like good quality olive oil.
If that’s your idea of salad, please do yourself a favor. Get your self a bottle of good extra virgin olive oil and a bottle of good vinegar.
I was a bit disillusioned when I learned my mom’s homemade dressing had a nasty little secret. It was made with a packet of spices and herbs. She mixed her oil and vinegar with it in a shaker jar that came with the packets. It wasn’t purely homemade, but it was much better than anything else out there.
After I got my first place, Mom gave me one of those jars and a box of those packets. I used her little secret and got rave reviews on my salads and my homemade dressing. When I got “into” olive oil, I started making the dressing with extra virgin olive oil. I got more raves.
I went to Italy on vacation and had an epiphany. No bottled dressings. No pre-mixed oil and vinegar type dressings either. Just a bottle of the greenest extra virgin olive oil and another bottle of the best smelling balsamic vinegar were placed on the table with the salad bowl.
I watched as people drizzled oil over the lettuce and splashed balsamic on top. They used their fork to stir it all around, and then they dug in. I tried it. I’ve got to admit that it was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten.
My family is rather set in their ways. The first time I set the oil, the vinegar, and the salad on the communal table, they stared at me as if I were nuts. So I learned to mix the dressing first. It’s easy.
Go by the taste. I mix equal amounts of oil and balsamic vinegar in a jar. Some people don’t like it quite so vinegary so if you’re one of them then use less vinegar and more oil. One cup of oil to one-half cup vinegar is what most cookbook recipes call for.
Add a good pinch of sea salt. Experiment with herbs if you want by adding 1/4 teaspoon or more to taste. Try crushed rosemary, oregano, basil, or thyme. Minced garlic is great with this. Also if you like red onion, finely mince some and add. Shake well. Pour over your salad and toss. Oh, if you use red wine vinegar, then add a teaspoon of something sweet like honey or raw sugar to cut the tartness.
Guess what? Even Aunt Tildy likes my salads now. Even though she won’t admit it.