Thinking back to my childhood, I was a very picky eater. I let a lot of things go, in a culinary way of speaking, because they just didn’t sound right. No mushrooms, no avocado or guacamole, no cilantro, no dressing on my salads, nothing that looks weird.
The little girl who spent the morning watching Julia Child on PBS, who stood on a chair by the stove, wearing a hand-sewn apron, dreaming of being a chef, was not really able to kiss the food for what it was.
An experience to live, a risk to take, an unexpected flavor profile to find, a new crush to discover. When I was 16, I took a job in my first kitchen, as a dishwasher. The menu was unexpected and full of things I had never tried. I found myself branching out and trying new foods. I started to like cilantro, I started to sharpen my palate, to learn to combine the ingredients. However, I was still a little cautious.
Several years later, at 23, I took a job at a prestigious restaurant. Before each shift, we had to taste the dish of the day. I remember approaching foie gras with trepidation, after all it was liver! I just knew I wasn’t going to take advantage of it. Imagine my surprise when, after taking every bite, I loved it!
This moment changed my life. Now I take the exact opposite approach to food, I’m willing to try anything once. The biggest change for me, stemming from my newfound willingness to explore foods that I had once hated, was learning to love salads.
Previously, I had always eaten salad without dressing, or avoided it altogether. As such, I found them to be totally dull. However, I have discovered that a good dressing can turn simple, fresh ingredients into something spectacular.
Dressings date back to ancient Babylon, when the most basic mixture of oil and vinegar was used to dress greens. Ancient Greece and Rome also boasted of using the mixture of oil and vinegar extensively.
The first use of the term salad dressing, in English, appeared in 1699, in John Evelyns Acetaria, although the use of oil in the condiment prepared with vinegar is not mentioned. In the Cassels Dictionary of Cookery from 1877, the definition includes ingredients such as herbs, shallots, onions, and mustard to enhance flavor.
Dressings are simple, in essence. 3 parts oil, usually olive or canola oil, and 1 part vinegar of your choice, with additional ingredients to add flavor. The possibilities are limitless. A simple mixture of oil, vinegar and herbs will separate easily, requiring stirring between uses, but makes a perfect base for a pasta salad. A traditional Italian vinaigrette is a perfect example. An emulsified dressing includes a stabilizing ingredient, usually eggs or mustard, to achieve a creamy, even dressing. Examples include French dressing, creamy Caesar, and balsamic vinaigrette which is a versatile dressing that can be used for salads or to liven up healthy recipes such as roasted sweet potatoes. Berry-based dressings are the perfect choice for a mixed green salad that also satisfies foodies.
Whatever your choice of dressings, as with all of my recipes, please experiment with your own flavor profiles. Add chipotle and lime to a mango and white wine vinegar vinaigrette for a little heat. Blueberries and balsamic vinegar make a fabulous dressing for a delicious spinach salad with red onions, peppers and cherry tomatoes.
Adding a little sesame oil (do not use sesame as the main oil for your emulsification!), A drizzle of soy sauce and a little Sriracha to an orange-based vinaigrette with rice wine vinegar makes an amazing Asian inspired salad. As always, a basic recipe can be personalized however you want.
1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit of your choice
1/3 cup vinegar of your choice
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1 cup olive or canola oil
Herbs / additional ingredients for flavor
In a food processor, combine the fruits, sugar and salt until smooth. Add mustard, vinegar and additional aromatic ingredients and mix until smooth. Slowly add the oil, a few drops at a time, until it is fully incorporated into a homogeneous and smooth mixture. If the dressing is too thick, you can slowly add water to the desired consistency.