The secret to a satisfying salad is mastering the fundamentals of a well-balanced dressing. Salads may seem boring, but once you understand the basic principles, you can experiment with different oils, vinegars, spices and herbs. The most important thing to remember is the ratio of acid to oil – it can vary according to personal taste, but the commonly used ratio is one part acid to three parts oil.
Here are five tips to keep in mind when whipping up your next vinaigrette:
1. Dissolve granular ingredients (salt and sugar) before adding oil
Avoid a gritty texture by dissolving grainy ingredients (like salt and sugar) in the vinegar-base of the dressing before adding oil – they won’t dissolve in oil.
Tip: You can also use non-granular sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar or maple syrup to temper the acidity and add flavour. Honey and agave nectar are more neutral in flavour, while maple syrup will add buttery, caramel flavour notes.
If your vinaigrette has separated, it means that it hasn’t been emulsified properly. Emulsifying is when you force two liquids (that usually wouldn’t combine) to bind together. In a vinaigrette, this is done by slowly whisking the oil into the vinegar and by adding an emulsifier.
What is an emulsifier?
The emulsifier is the ingredient that acts as the bond between the oil and vinegar. Without this binder, it will be difficult for your vinaigrette to come together. Try using prepared mustard, miso paste or tahini.
Tip: The emulsifying component of a dressing will also add flavour. For added depth and a salty, umami flavour, opt for miso paste – or try adding tahini for a rich, nutty flavour. Mustard, another commonly used emulsifier, will supply a bit of a kick.
3. Experiment with different flavours
Start by mastering the classic French vinaigrette and then have fun and change things up by adding different flavours to your dressing, this will help with the balance of acidity, sweetness and saltiness. For example, add fresh herbs when they are plentiful in the summer and spices like cinnamon or smoked paprika for a boost of flavour during cooler months. Grated or crumbled cheese will add a savoury element and briny ingredients like capers or olives will add a salty touch that will make a big impact.
4. The order of ingredients matters
Since oil won’t dissolve granular ingredients, it’s important to start by whisking the base ingredients together – vinegar, granular ingredients, the emulsifier of choice and any additional spices or herbs. Then, slowly drizzle in the oil in a steady stream while constantly whisking. Continue whisking until the dressing thickens to your desired consistency.
Tip: Because a vinaigrette isn’t being cooked, opt for the highest quality oils you have on hand. For basic vinaigrettes, try neutral flavoured oil such as olive oil or canola, for something with more depth, experiment with flavourful oils such as sesame, avocado or roasted walnut oil.
5. Know your vinegars
Vinegars have different flavours and levels of acidity (acid levels range from 4 to 7 percent). Check the bottle – a higher level of acid means a more pungent vinegar.
Tip: If you find your dressing overly acidic you can balance it out using salt and sweeteners.