A New World of Vinegar and Oil

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

 Dressing Up Summer Salads – Cumin, Chili and Oregano Dressing

 Remember when raspberry vinegar dressing was a gourmet treat?  It was usually paired with fresh raspberries, toasted almonds and warm goat cheese.  While that sounds passé today, it may have sparked a creative approach to salads that continues to grow.   

 Recent gifts of black currant and tangerine-balsamic vinegars and a selection of macadamia nut oils pushed me into re-exploring homemade salad dressings.  I visited the source of one of the vinegars, Paradiso, in Redmond, Washington, and loaded my basket with Alphanso Mango, Sicilian Lemon and a robust Espresso balsamic vinegar along with whole-lemon extra virgin olive oil. 

 At Uwajimaya, an Asian market in Bellevue, Washington, I discovered ginger and yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) vinegars.  I realized that I was just scratching the surface of exciting dressing ingredients.  My salads started to sing. 

 You don’t need a recipe to make salad dressing.  Years ago, as a student at La Varenne Cooking School in Paris, I was taught to make vinaigrette using the classic ratio of one part vinegar to three parts oil with a little salt and pepper and a dab of Dijon mustard. For a garlic note, rub the inside of the bowl with a clove of garlic.  For a gentle onion flavor, add a minced shallot. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

The 1 to 3 ratio (vinegar to oil) works with traditional, more acidic vinegars such as red and white wine vinegars.  With sweeter fruit or balsamic-style vinegars (or when using citrus juice in place of vinegar), I use a 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 ratio, a boon to anyone counting calories.   Oils are generally healthful fats, but each tablespoon has about 120 calories, so if you load a lot on your salad the calories mount.  I suggest dressing salad lightly as the French do– using a couple of tablespoons to cover about 10 cups of greens. 

 The world of salad oil is as wide as that of vinegar.  I’ve been to olive oil tastings (more like marathons) in San Francisco and Seattle which, like wine tastings, provide an opportunity to compare the subtleties of the finest extra-virgin oils. 

 Roasted nut oils also make extraordinary salad dressings.  Toasted sesame and roasted walnut oil are well known but others include roasted pistachio, macadamia nut, peanut, almond and hazelnut.  They can be pricey so I reserve them to dress salad and finish dishes rather than for cooking.  And I store them in the refrigerator to preserve freshness. The flavor of some oils, like toasted sesame, wasabi and chili, is so strong that the oil can be used as a seasoning along with neutral-tasting oil such as canola, avocado or grape seed.  Don’t confuse roasted with unroasted versions of these oils which are less flavorful. 

Don’t have time?  I make dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl.  It takes a minute, or maybe three.  And if you’ve had a linear-thinking day, it gives you a few moments of creative kitchen alchemy and results in a tastier salad than you’d get with most bottled dressings, many of which are high in sodium and sweeteners, rely on flavor-lacking oils, dehydrated garlic and seasonings.

Vinaigrette is highly versatile; it makes foods glisten like no creamy dressing can.  I use it for greens, potato salad, coleslaw, lentil, bean and grain salads. Here a dressing made with espresso balsamic vinegar

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

complements the earthy flavor of a sprouted bean salad garnished with toasted pecans. 

Fruity balsamic dressings are a nice contrast to the slight bitterness of steamed, cooled cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.  Vinaigrette works as a marinade or a sauce, too.  Here I’ve topped wild king salmon with a vinaigrette made with sherry vinegar, whole-fruit lemon olive oil, a dab of Dijon, salt, pepper, baby heirloom tomatoes, chopped Castelvetrano and kalamata olives, minced shallot and sliced large capers.    

Don’t limit yourself to French or European culinary concepts.  For an Asian meal, make a vinaigrette with rice wine vinegar, grated fresh ginger root, a dribble of honey, shot of soy and roasted peanut or sesame oil. Add curry-style spices when cooking Indian food.     See the recipe below for a dressing to suit Latin cooking. 

Salads make good nutrition easy. Oils used for making salad are rich in the healthful polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and provide vitamin E, antioxidants and essential fatty acids.  Lettuce and the bounty of late-summer vegetables and fruits available now are begging to go in your salad bowl – and they help increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, fiber and disease-fighting phytonutrients. 

When making green salads I focus on two to three key “add-ins” to make it special and to complement the entrée.  Rushing  to a pot-luck recently, I plumbed my fridge for ingredients and tossed together chopped juicy nectarines, crisp greens, a handful of roasted pistachios, slivered red onion, crumbled feta and  a dressing of mango-balsamic vinegar and olive oil. 

Simplify dinner by making salad the main event – a tasty way to use up leftovers and keep the kitchen cool on warm days. Sliver cooked pork and add to a salad with grilled fresh pineapple rings, toasted nuts, shredded carrots and a ginger dressing.   Mix steak strips with greens, crumbled gorgonzola, chopped summer tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet Vidalia or Walla Walla onions and fresh basil or marjoram.  Think beyond the bowl. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

One very hot day I grilled homemade pizza crust with a light cheese topping, added fresh arugula and topped it with a salad of baby shrimp marinated in a chive and citrus vinaigrette.

Shrimp Salad Pizza - Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

This summer I’ve been adding more grilled foods to my salad bowl – including lettuce, and bread for croutons. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

 In this salad I used grilled corn,

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

stripped from the cob, grilled potatoes (steamed first and then brushed with garlic-oil) fresh strips of bell pepper and fresh basil and chives plucked from my garden.

Note that the dark inky vinegars can color food so  choose a light vinegar such as white balsamic, white wine or champagne when color matters.  If you plan to serve wine with salad avoid dressings that are too sweet or too acidic.  Try simmering wine until reduced, add a little citrus juice and oil, salt and pepper to make a very light dressing.  

Cumin, Chili & Oregano Dressing:  Mix 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives or green onion, 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano (or 1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano), 2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin,  and 1/2  teaspoon salt.  Stir to dissolve salt.  Whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil

Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

Speak Your Mind