Lettuce is available year-round from greenhouses (and from Mexico), but this is the season when the variety and quality at the market increases exponentially. A big salad is a great and easy way to round out a meal for company, and I’ve got a dirty secret to share about dressing.
Well, not that dirty.
First, let me say that making your own dressing is cheap and easy. A bottle of salad dressing is going to run you $3.50 or more, while an equivalent amount of homemade dressing probably costs about 50 cents. Plus, store-bought dressings have some REALLY weird stuff in them (Xanthan gum, anyone? How about a little bit more polysorbate 80 on your salmon, Tim?) to keep them emulsified while they sit on the shelf. And all a decent dressing takes is oil, vinegar, and a little mustard to bring them together (and in the darkness bind them). Salt and pepper are usually a good idea as well.
But some people don’t like homemade vinaigrette. They like bottled dressing. They think homemade doesn’t hold up to what they can buy or get in restaurants. But I’ve got a sure fire way to make great salad salad dressing that tastes professionally made. And it’s only kind of cheating…
Use flavored mustard. Honey mustard. Tarragon mustard. Hot mustard. Baron von Mustard’s Mustard Sauce with Mustard Flavor. Whatever you’ve got in the fridge will do. By starting with a flavored mustard, you guarantee an extra little kick that makes the whole thing taste closer to professionally made (or industrially manufactured) dressing.
It sounds stupidly easy. And it is. Just make sure you’re using a GOOD flavored mustard and not one with more unidentifiable chemicals than the dressing I was talking about above.
So to make dressing:
Start with a little bit of mustard in a bowl (a teaspoon or so? It depends on how much dressing your making.) Now add vinegar; I like a mix of balsamic and red wine. Beat this together with a fork or whisk and, as you do, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Add salt. Add pepper. Eat.
I always make dressing, add half of it to the salad, and then taste without adding more. I, and nearly everyone I’ve cooked/eaten with, am a chronic overdresser. We’re all panicked that the salad is going to be dry and gross. I’ve never had this problem. The problem I’ve had is turning my salad into a soup. So dress carefully, my friends. Dress carefully.