Saturday, May 12, 2012

All dressed up with nowhere to go (...but your belly)

Salads, as I've already elaborated on, can be awesome. However, the direction that my last salad post took me was a pulling-out-all-the-stops recipe for kale salad that included ingredients and preparations darling to the foodie world: beets! kale! things that are pickled! With such a recipe involved, it's hard to go wrong. What, then, do you do when it's Salad Time! and you find your produce drawers significantly unprepared for such an operation? Perhaps you've dug out some lettuce, defrosted some edamame, and toasted some walnuts (my current favorite salad iteration). Now what do you top it all off with?

You may be tempted to run to the store to pick up some bottled dressing. For the love of all that is tasty, resist this impulse. With a few exceptions, bottled dressings are unnecessarily sweet and creamy (hello ingredient lists with sugar and chemical stabilizers!). Then you realize - hey! I'm a well prepared and far-from-inept home cook; I've got some olive oil and vinegar laying around - I'll just pour a few quick glugs of each onto my salad bowl. I myself have taken this road many times before, and while I can assure you that it's still a significant improvement from the bottled stuff, straight-poured oil and vinegar is always just shy of satisfying. The oil to vinegar ratio inevitably gets skewed, and the lack of emulsification means that all the liquids sink to the bottom of your bowl, missing almost entirely their targeted audience.

Of course, it is still very easy to make your own salad dressing on the side, one which will even last for a few salads worth. All you need is to mix a teaspoon of dijon with a tablespoon of your vinegar of choice, then slowly whisk in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until it is fully emulsified. If you want to get fancy, add some chopped fresh herbs, minced garlic or shallots, or something sweet like honey or maple syrup. Or forgo the whisk and shake it all up vigorously in a mason jar. All you really need is the essential trinity of salad dressings: mustard, acid, oil. Making salad dressing on a whim has become so second-nature to me that at any dinner-cooking gathering with friends, I am inevitably the one called on to make the salad dressing. Isn't it funny the things that your friends will know you for?

But let's get back to this current bowl of greens sitting in front of you. For whatever reason, an entire batch of dressing won't do: maybe you don't want to dirty another dish, or you won't go through that much dressing before it goes bad, or you're just feeling exceptionally in-the-moment. I have a stupidly simple salad secret for you then: make the dressing right in the bowl. The addition of mustard and the hand-tossing of everything together really elevates this beyond the simple oil and vinegar dressing. Something about the mustard and tossing it vigorously with everything else ensures that you get a perfectly balanced and loosely emulsified salad dressing... but you know, the lazy way.

MADE-IN-THE-BOWL SALAD DRESSING (Or, The Laziest "Recipe" I Routinely Use)
Compile your salad ingredients in a fairly large bowl. Throw on top a half teaspoon of dijon mustard, and a scant soup-spoon's worth each of olive oil and your vinegar of choice. Wash your hands, then get in there and give everything a good thorough toss until the mustard coats everything as evenly as possible. A pinch of salt and a few cracks of black pepper over everything make this complete.

Make a good dressing, and you too can be a woman laughing alone with salad. Ohdeargod.

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