A moment, if you please, for the glories of a fresh vinaigrette.
Vinaigrette is an amazing thing. I realized a long time ago that if I learned how to make things like sauces and dressings, I could experience an enormous range of foods in the comfort of my own home. A common complaint about vegetarian cooking is that it’s “boring”. It’s just a bunch of vegetables, right? Only wrong. When you take beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables and put them to work for you, even salads rock out.
You can make a vinagrette from a wide range of produce (and I know you can make salad dressings with bacon, too, but seriously, people…dial back the processed meat obsession just a notch, your colon will thank you for it) and it’s eeeeeeeeeeeeeeasy peasy so long as you have a few basics down. Plus, you can make however much you want. It’s just me and my boyfriend, so we make small batches of a dressing that we use over the course of a week. We don’t have extra bottles cluttering up our fridge (how many times have you said, “Wait…I have this? When did I buy this? Hmmmm…it’s of indeterminate age, let me eat it.”) and we can alter the taste of the dressing depending on what we’re in the mood for.
Did I mention it takes about five minutes to make? Ten, if you’re really, extraordinarily anal retentive and feel like you have to precisely measure every grain of mustard.
So let’s get to it. For enough blackberry vinaigrette for two people for three or four days of salad (depending on how much you use, of course) you’ll need:
- 1 Ball jar (or other container that can be securely capped and summarily manhandled, you’ll see)
- 1 small shallot (about the size of a votive candle cut in half), finely diced
- 8-10 blackberries (about 1/4 cup)
- 1 healthy teaspoon of mustard (I prefer the really grainy kind)
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme (or whatever herb works for you) (poppy seeds would be nice, too!)
- 1/4 c mild vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar, but white wine or champagne vinegar would be equally lovely. Save the strong and/or fruity vinegars for another dressing)
- A good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper (if you don’t have a pepper grinder, a) get one and b) if you need more than a quarter teaspoon of pepper I’d be surprised, since it’s really not that much dressing you’re seasoning)
- Olive oil (to taste and yes, I will explain)
Here is one of the few times I will say this: I generally don’t use garlic in my vinaigrettes, people, so no, I didn’t forget to put it in the ingredient list. Have you picked yourselves up off the floor? See, as much as I love garlic, I think it has a tendency to take over the flavor of a vinaigrette, especially if it’s going to sit in the fridge for a few days without benefit of artificial stabilizers keeping the food in check. Which this won’t have, because it’s all freshy-fresh. Shallots deliver a savory impact that’s kind of a cross between onion and garlic all on their own and don’t tend to take over the flavor like garlic does. Moving on.
First, take your shallot and cut it into a fine dice. For many people this will be the most trying part of their dressing-making experience but hey, it can help perfect your knife skills! Cut it into a small dice using the exact same planks/sticks/cubes method I talked about in my blog about potato-spinach curry, when I cut ginger. If you’re getting stressed out about cutting shallots that small just remember, they don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be. If you’re still getting stressed out, feel free to shred your shallot with a fine cheese grater. Put your diced shallots in your Ball jar.
Mash up the blackberries. I used a mortar and pestle, but use whatever you’ve got. A mixing bowl and the back of a spoon. A fork. I would advise against using either mallets or the heel of your shoe, both for ease of cleanup and because yuck, but hey, it’s your kitchen. Then take your smooshed blackberries and put them in the jar.
Then add: mustard, vinegar, thyme, salt, and pepper.
Next, put in the olive oil. I generally use a 1:1 ratio of oil, so since there’s about a half-cup of *stuff* (berries, vinegar, etc) in my jar already, I use an equal amount (or even slightly less) of oil. It’s way less fatty than traditional vinaigrettes; 3:1 is the “classic” ratio for vinaigrettes but when I follow that recipe I always feel like I’m sliding my way into a salad. I don’t care for it.
Once you’ve got all your stuff in your jar, it needs to become dressing. Cap it securely and–I believe this is a legitimate technique taught in the finest culinary schools around the world–shake it. Really hard.
Remember to re-shake it when you’re ready to eat it. Once you grok your vinaigrette basics you can do tons of things to it. Use ginger and soy sauce instead of shallots and salt. Throw in some fresh parsley/dill/basil you have hanging around your crisper. Add a shot of honey if the berries are tart and you think it needs a touch of sweet. Use strawberries or raspberries instead. Your options are wide open and regardless of what you put in it, the fact remains that you’ll know exactly what’s in your salad dressing, instead of eating a bowl of stabilizers and preservatives.
This vinaigrette will last at least a week in the fridge. I don’t know how much longer than that it would stay because we tend to finish it. Since it’s all fresh ingredients without preservatives, the (only) downside (that I can see) is that the vinaigrette will go bad if it’s left in the fridge too long, sitting in the back next to those pickles you got…when?
We all have those.
So. Have a salad!