We haven't had a bottle of salad dressing in our refrigerator for more than 10 years. True story. Now, some of that time had to do with me not eating very much salad, I will confess. I’ve always been more of a meat and potatoes and dessert kind of girl. But, most of that time had to do with me not liking bottled salad dressing, and finding that I eat a lot more salad when I actually like the dressing.
My younger, restaurant-going years were spent in part devouring wonderful tangles of micro-greens, tender lettuces, and pea tendrils and wondering how these little bistro salads could attain such a level of deliciousness while my own homemade lettuce piles remained so uninspired. The thing to know about salads if you want to like them is that you need to use fresh vegetables. Like really fresh. Straight from the farm if you can get them. They should talk back.
The second thing is to wash your greens and spin them dry, dry, dry if you want your dressing to cling to the leaves instead of sliding off into a puddle at the bottom of the salad bowl. If you don’t have a salad spinner, toss them into an old pillowcase, then walk outside and whip your arm around real fast as if it were the sole windmill powering the entire Internet. The people on the sidewalk might look at you funny. Just aim the centrifugal stream of water at their faces and they’ll keep right on walking.
Thirdly, you should make your own dressing. Supermarket dressing sucks. Most of it, anyway (if you have a favorite, you can put it in the comments). I don’t even know what they put in those bottles half the time, but you don’t need more than five ingredients, which you probably already have. Two, if you’re really short on time and patience. It will only take 30 seconds to make your own and it makes everything go down so much better.
The final thing to remember about green salads is that you should never dress them ahead of time. Do it approximately one second before you’re going to eat. Everyone should already be sitting down and complaining about the fact that there's salad tonight. Don't worry. They'll shut up once they taste the dressing.
Here’s my everyday vinaigrette technique. There’s no recipe—just a basic ratio that you can scale up or down depending on how many people you’re feeding. Store any extra in a jelly jar in the fridge. The olive oil might congeal, but some time warming at room temperature and a brisk whisking will revive it.
1 part red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
Touch of Dijon mustard (optional)
2-3 parts extra-virgin olive oil (I like my dressings tangy, so I use closer to 2)
Salt and pepper
Whisk together vinegar and mustard. Add oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture thickens and emulsifies. Season with salt and pepper.
To upgrade this to a 3-minute vinaigrette, juice a lemon instead of using vinegar, add the mustard along with some minced garlic or shallots and chopped herbs. Then whisk in the oil, salt, and pepper.
Buttermilk Herb Dressing
When I get sick of vinaigrettes, here’s what I make instead.
2 parts buttermilk
2 parts mayonnaise
1 part minced shallots or onions
1 part chopped herbs like tarragon, parsley, and chives (but the seasonal variations are endless)
Salt and pepper
Whisk or shake together in a jar, adding more buttermilk if too thick, or more mayo if too thin. Season with salt and pepper. Store in the fridge. Always shake before using. This is also great for crudité platters. Use extra mayo for a thicker consistency.