‘Tis the Season: Dijon Vinaigrette

LettuceSpring has officially sprung out here in the Pacific Northwest, and our farmers markets, gardens, grocery stores, and crisper drawers are overflowing with the new bounty that the seemingly endless months of drizzle bestow on us once the sun decides to stay out for a few moments strung together. Among the first to pop out of our rich soil are the leafy, multicolored baby salad greens that I’ve started to crave on a daily basis. Another side effect of the grey winter is that, come spring, all the citizenry burst forth into the outdoors in droves, and people can be found strolling, draped on stoops, lolling in grassy parks, and zipping around town on bikes.

Last weekend, my fun friends hosted their annual Bike Maintenance Day BBQ, for which they invite any and all to come over, throw something tasty on the grill, contribute a communal dish, and make use of the hosts’ tools, stands, and expertise to tune up their bicycles for the coming months of riding. As anyone who knows me can attest, after Christmas and my birthday, this is my favorite day of the year, and definitely my bike’s numero uno holiday.

This year, I was a little torn on what to contribute as a communal dish. I found myself wandering aimlessly through the produce section of Whole Foods pondering what would be tasty, fresh, and portable enough to toss in my bike’s pannier and pedal over to the Q, when, out of the piles of dwindling citrus and greenhouse tomatoes, a pile of tiny mixed lettuces sang to me like an angel choir from the heavens, and inspiration struck. I found the biggest container of greens they had – only $6! – gave a little fist-pump, and humped it home to my kitchen, where I whipped up a batch of my favorite Dijon Vinaigrette in a spare jar. Container of greens and jar of dressing tossed in my sack, along with some sausages for the grill, I biked forth, knowing I had a hit item to share. Sure enough, the big bowl of dressed greens on the picnic table kept dwindling, and I kept filling it up. There’s nothing like a bowl of zesty freshness to perk up some grilled food.

Now, here’s a little tip about salad greens, which works well for grown-up lettuce, too. If you’re not headed straight for a barbecue and have a spare moment or two after you’ve gotten the greens home from your greens purveyor, take a few minutes to rinse, drain, (a salad spinner is handy for this – I got mine for a few bucks at Ikea) and package your greens so that they’ll be ready for consumption at the moment that you crave them most. Also, they will keep better in a container with a lid than in a plastic bag, and they do not necessarily need to be kept in the crisper, contrary to popular belief. You will be glad you took the time to do this when all you have to do is pull the container out of the fridge and sling some greens into a bowl to have insta-salad. Definitely a pat-yourself-on-the-back moment. Kitchen genius!

In this post, I bestow upon you my tried and true recipe for Dijon Vinaigrette. After you’ve made it once, you’ll be able to whip it up in mere moments for a delectable veggie topper, and then you can start experimenting with different components and flavors, and come up with a combo that you and your household like best. There’s a very basic formula of different elements that go into a vinaigrette, so the possibilities are only limited by the number of oils, acids, herbs, and other flavorings in the world.

There are three important things to keep in mind when making a vinaigrette. First, the ratio of ingredients. Second, emulsion. Third, tasting. Here is how this pans out for you.

Ratio: In any vinaigrette, the standard formula is: 1 part acid (e.g. vinegar, lemon juice) for every 3 parts oil, along with some salt to taste and some sweetener to cut the acid. This is the framework upon which all vinaigrettes are built, and from there you just add flavorings like herbs, spices, garlic, and condiments.

Now, I happen to like my dressings very tangy, so sometimes mine tend to be closer to a ratio of 1 part acid to only 2 parts oil (so, more vinegary). Also, acids like citrus juices are not as acidic as straight vinegar, so in that case, you would also want to increase the vinegar content in relation to the oil content, and/or use a blend of citrus and vinegar. More on this below under Tasting. The salt and sweetener (e.g. sugar, honey, molasses) serve to balance and enhance the oil and acid components.

Emulsion: As we know, logically speaking, oil and water do not mix. However, we shall employ the magic of emulsion. Emulsion is the method that makes the vinegar and herbs blend with the oil, so that we don’t have a layer of this, a layer of that, etc. This requires vigorous shaking or whisking as the oil is added gradually, and ends with a silky-smooth vinaigrette suspension with all the ingredients blended nicely. Voilà!

Tasting: This is a test in learning to trust your taste buds to tell you what you need to do to your vinaigrette. You will need to taste it, and decide how it is balanced for your own palate, and for how you will be using it. My recipe below is already measured and ready to go, but if you decide you want to strike out on your own, don’t be afraid to taste and alter accordingly. As I mentioned above, some acids are less acidic, so you need more to balance against the oil. Some acids are sweeter, so you can reduce or even eliminate the sugar. Likewise, the oils and condiments you use will have different flavors, which you need to take into consideration when you’re building your own new creation. I’ve found that the best way to test your concoction is to dip whatever it is you’re going to pour it over (so, usually a lettuce leaf) into the dressing, and eat it, and see how it works in the context. It’s hard to judge just tasting it off your finger spoon, because it’s going to be spread out over your salad, or what have you. (It’s like tasting syrup without pancakes. The medium changes everything.) Let your tongue be your guide – it knows a lot.

Having said all that, this recipe is incredibly simple. So easy. Way easier than pie. You’ll wonder why you ever spent a cent on salad dressing in your life.

What I’m trying to say here is, the sky’s the limit, but here’s a great place to begin. Feel free to double or triple this recipe if you have a lot of mouths to feed or want leftovers, just keep in mind that it is best consumed within two weeks of its birth, and we’d hate for a glorious dressing to go to waste.

Dressed Greens

2 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Awesome new blog!

    I have good luck keeping salad greens in freezer ziplock bags when I pack them in damp paper towels. They keep pretty fresh for quite a few days (I just ate some that I’ve been storing for over a week). I am able to reuse the paper towels quite a few times as I bring in more lettuce from our garden.

    Keep up the good work on this. You’ll get the hang of it.

  2. Kelsey says:

    Yaay, Audrey! I love your new blog!! So fun!

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