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08.08.2005

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dressing up how to make a salad dressing
by Yee-Fan Sun
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continued from page 1

For vinegar, your options are a bit wider. I can't imagine my cupboards without a bottle each of balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar and rice vinegar. The balsamic vinegar is sweet and mellow, warm and rich; the red wine vinegar is lighter in body but nice and zingy; the rice vinegar is perfect when I'm looking for a milder vinegary flavor. You might choose to stock sherry vinegar instead of balsamic, white wine vinegar instead of red, and a cider vinegar in addition to or in place of the rice vinegar. Plain white vinegar, however, is generally too harsh for salads (or really most cooking purposes, though it does make a dandy household cleaner).

Lastly, a little note about the quality of your ingredients. As every cooking guru will ever tell you, the better the components that go into your dressing, the better your salad dressing will be. Sadly for those of us for whom the sky is way, way over the limit when it comes to buying groceries, oils and vinegars can get mighty pricey indeed. Personally, I run through my oil and vinegar quickly enough that I can't justify spending $12 plus on an itty-bitty bottle of the stuff. The best bit of advice I can give to my fellow budget cooks is this: not all low-end oils and vinegars are created equal. Try, try, try until you find a brand that tastes all right to you.

how to make a vinaigrette
With your ingredients assembled, you're ready to whip together your first homemade dressing. Here's a basic recipe for that simplest of salad dressings, the vinaigrette. I've provided specific quantities to get you started, but ultimately, try not to be a slave to the quantities listed. Following these proportions should produce a vinaigrette with a decent amount of tang. For a classic mellow French vinaigrette, up the oil to vinegar ratio to 4:1 (for my tastebuds, this is not nearly vinegary enough). For a low-fat, very tangy dressing, you can lower the ratio to 1:1. Of course, in the end, the only way to make a perfect vinaigrette is to taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Trust your taste buds: only you know what tastes good to you.

ingredients
cup (4 Tbsps.) extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. vinegar of your choice (I like balsamic or a wine vinegar best)
rounded tsp. salt
six or so generous grinds of fresh ground pepper (which is what you should ideally use; the pre-ground stuff isn't as flavorful though if you must, try 1/8 of a teaspoon)

serves 4-6

Place the vinegar, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Use a whisk or fork to mix up the ingredients so the salt and vinegar aren't sitting in a lump at the bottom of the liquid. Very slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly; you should soon see the oil and vinegar start to come together and slightly thicken up (in cooking parlance, this is known as emulsification). When you can no longer see big pools of separated oil and vinegar, you can add the remaining oil in a somewhat faster (but still steady) stream.

With all your oil added, it's time to do the taste test. If the dressing seems too tart, add more oil to mellow it out. If it lacks bite, add more vinegar or pepper. If you feel like you just can't taste any of the flavors as much as you'd like to, but the dressing doesn't strike you as obviously too acidic or too oily, try upping the salt. If you happen to add too much salt, a bit of sugar will often balance it out.

amble on this way folks!

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