Cooking Technique: Vinaigrettes

Tools Required:

Glass Bowl – I love a good set of nesting bowls for meal prep. I also own over 20 of these glass bowls from IKEA which work perfectly for prep and serving!

Whisk – I own quite a lot of whisks and most of them are pretty inexpensive but I do recommend one good stainless steel whisk for making vinaigrettes, whipped cream or sauces!

My Thought Process:

You may know this about me already but I’m not a huge fan of salads. They’re a nice treat every once in a while (especially some of the more creative styles many restaurants offer) but when it comes to those enormous salads you often see health nuts eating, I just can’t do it. They never seem to fill me up and I’d rather get my greens in all day long than eat a big ole salad for lunch. However, I still make vinaigrettes on a regular basis and they have so many uses beyond just salad!

Now, not all vinaigrettes are created equal. Most store-bought options are loaded with crap and often don’t taste all that great. And the worst part about buying vinaigrettes is that you can make great homemade versions without getting complicated! Every so often I’ll go through the effort to make a Caesar or Ranch dressing but 99% of the time, I stick to one formula and make it over and over again.

Since I don’t eat very many leafy green salads, you’re probably wondering what the heck I do with all of these homemade vinaigrettes. But there just so many ways to use them! For example, I always vinaigrate (my attempts at a new verb will surely catch on) my massaged kale salads. After massaging my kale with a little lemon, I then toss it in a simple vinaigrette to add another layer of flavor. And while kale might appear to be a leafy green, it actually falls into the cruciferous veggie family and therefore fits my argument!
Another use for vinaigrettes is to toss with grilled veggies which can then be piled up on a sandwich, tossed with orzo or pasta or just eaten them by themselves. I also love to make grain salads with brown rice, farro or quinoa (which may or may not include greens) with vinaigrettes again being a great way to enhance ingredients that might otherwise be a little plain. And lastly, I use vinaigrettes as a quick marinade for meats to add a quick punch of flavor!

To Start Whisking Up the Perfect Vinaigrette, Here’s What to Do:

Step One: Choose Your Flavor Profile – What are you going for? What’s the application? Do you want an Asian-influenced dressing, something light and lemony or perhaps you want Italian flavor?

Step Two: Select Your Acid, Oil, Emulsifier and Optional Sweetener/Additional Flavors.

Acid Options:
Citrus – Lemon, Lime, Orange and Grapefruit are a few of my favorites.
Vinegars – Apple Cider, Red Wine, Balsamic and Rice Vinegar are the ones we use in our A Healthy Passion pantry. I might have a specialty vinegar or two lying around but I usually stick to the basics.

Oil Options:
Olive Oil – My favorite and oil of choice 99% of the time. I tend to go for a high-quality finishing oil to get the most flavor in my vinaigrette.
Sesame Oil – If you want Asian flavors, sesame oil and rice vinegar make for a great combo. Otherwise, I use this oil mostly for cooking.
Grape Seed Oil – If you’re looking for a neutral base, grape seed will work. I use this most often in marinades.

Emulsifier Options:
Mustard (my favorite!)
Honey
Mayonnaise
Egg Yolk
Roasted Garlic

The role of the emulsifier is to hold the oil and vinegar together and thicken the vinaigrette. If you use something chunkier like garlic, make sure to throw everything into a blender to make sure it all gets pureed well!

Sweetener Options:
Honey (the most natural and the best balance)
Molasses
Brown Sugar
Maple Syrup
I especially like to use sweeteners to tame foods with bitter flavors (kale or greens salads).
Add-Ins:
Lemon Peel (so much zestier than actual zest!)
Fresh Herbs
Seasonings

Step Three: Choose Your Ratio and Prepare Your Vinaigrette – Classic vinaigrettes are typically a 3:1 ratio of oil to acid. I think that’s a little too much oil in most cases so I shoot more for a 1:1 ratio on most occasions, with a little lean in the direction of oil. But the great thing about cooking is that you can find what works for you and adjust. So play around!
I like to start with my emulsifier (and optional sweetener) and then whisk in my vinegar. The oil gets streamed into the vinegar and then any add-ins or seasonings go in last. As a quick rule of thumb, I would say 1 1/2 tbsp of oil, 1 tbsp of acid, 1 tsp of emulsifier and 1 tsp of sweetener!

Step Four: Taste and Adjust Seasonings – I like to taste my vinaigrette with the target dish to make sure the balance is right, since seasoning has often already been applied to another part of the meal (cooking quinoa in veggie stock, massaging kale with lemon/salt). For example, with a kale salad, I’ll dip a kale leaf into the dressing. If it’s a grain salad, I mix up a tiny amount in a bowl and taste. I can then add whatever ingredient I think is lacking!

Step Five: Toss and Let Flavors Meld – This last step is optional but so worth it! In most cases, I find things get better as they’re tossed together and allowed to sit so I wholeheartedly recommend popping your dressed meal into the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors meld. If not no worries – it’ll still be delish!

Health Tip:

Store-bought salad dressings are loaded with crap (preservatives, low-quality hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and MSG) and the healthier versions are often pricy and nowhere near as good as homemade, especially when it’s so simple to whip one up at home.
So make it a goal to start making ALL dressings from scratch.

Happy Whisking,

Kate

 

 

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