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dressing up how to make a salad dressing
by Yee-Fan Sun
1 2 3

For the first twenty or so years of my life, salad dressing was that stuff that came out of a bottle. It was labeled Italian, or Ranch, or Thousand Island, and a quick glance through the ingredients generally revealed a list far too long for me to ever consider duplicating the results in my own kitchen. But on a post-college trip around Italy, I made friends with a very cool girl named Sabrina who was a fabulous, fabulous cook. She taught me how to cook pasta so it was perfectly al dente; I cribbed my penne with brie, sundried tomatoes and basil from a dish she made for us one night in Florence. She also showed me that with just a few simple ingredients and a minute or two of time, you could make a salad dressing that was leagues better than anything that came out of an easy-pour bottle. I've been a homemade dressing snob ever since.

Making your own salad dressing is fast; it's easy. And it'll elevate even the simplest green salad to a dish worthy of serving to guests. Moreover, once you get the hang of the basic recipe, you'll discover that with the addition of just a simple flavoring agent or two -- a spice, an herb, some mustard, minced garlic -- you can completely change the flavor of the dressing. No more need to stock ten different kinds of bottled dressing; you can make up whatever kind of dressing you need, whenever the mood strikes. So if a quick peek in your fridge reveals an entire shelf of half-opened bottles of dressing, it's time to clear the clutter and learn to make a homemade dressing from scratch…

the basic components
At their simplest -- and often best -- salad dressings consist of just four little ingredients: oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Even if you've never cooked in your life, chances are good you already have some salt and pepper sitting around in the kitchen. But a quick trip to your supermarket will undoubtedly reveal a plethora of choices in the oil and vinegar departments. So what kind should you get?

For the vast majority of salad dressings, your oil of choice will be extra virgin olive oil, which imparts a good, peppery-fruity flavor that provides the perfect complement for vinegar. Basic cooking oils like canola, vegetable and corn oil might be nice and cheap, but they have pretty much zippo flavor, and won't add much to a dressing besides a greasy slickness; the same goes for non-extra-virgin olive oil. Should you become a real salad connoisseur, there are other big, flavorful oils that work well in dressings -- walnut oil, hazelnut oil and toasted sesame oil, for instance -- but if you're only going to spring for one good salad oil, it should be extra-virgin olive oil.

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