I want to talk with you about salad dressing today, but I’m going to take a bit of a detour into salad greens first, so bear with me.
It was a long winter. Every year come March, I’m aching for all sorts of spring and summer foods: asparagus, rhubarb, garlic scapes, strawberries, peaches, green beans, corn, tomatoes, zucchini even. I forget about the greens, though.
Good, fresh, local greens are a revelation. I like Whole Foods a lot, I really do. But even their greens cannot compare to the greens you can get at the farmer’s market or in a farm share (CSA). In my experience, the greens tend to be in better condition from the CSA, less wilted or bruised, a little bit crisper, the flavors a bit better. But beyond that, there’s so much variety outside of the grocery store. I had no idea that I would ever want mizuna or purslane* before I started getting them in our farm share in DC, but they’re fantastic— spicy and sour. At the grocery, I buy my spinach or arugula or whatever and call it a day. With the farm share, I would get six or seven different types of greens and herbs. I was eating salads of basically just herbage that were complex and exciting and delicious. I didn’t quite realize that salads could be like that.
When I was little, at dinnertime I would be tasked with making the salad, basically because it was hard to fuck up. Salads tend to be the boring part, more washing than cooking, eaten as a gesture of virtuousness before you have seconds of the meat. Salads are the things abstentious dieters eat while the rest of us eat real meals. You eat a salad in a mixed group of people and you run the risk of being buried under a pile of “of you’re so good”s as if your salad were some great act of martyrdom. Which I guess it sort of is because most salads are a disorganized mess of flavorless vegetables and greens that are at best just crispy. The salad bar can be a horror show.
But we are at the peak of delicious greens right now. In a month, the sexier vegetables will be ripe and all everyone will want to talk about are plates of sliced tomatoes with just some salt sprinkled over them and my, isn’t this just like being in Italy. But right now in our farm share we’re getting pounds of greens: beautiful heads of Boston bibb lettuce, pale green and looking like giant flower blossoms, little fists of crinkly-edged frisee, bins of deep green arugula, and tiny clumps of baby spinach attached at the base, stems tender enough still that you can just rinse and toss the whole thing into a salad. We are an entire world away from the salad bar.
And now that you have your beautiful greens all washed and assembled, do not tell me that you’re going to dump some corn syrup filled creamy poppy seed bottled salad dressing business on top of them.
No, you are not. You are going to make a salad dressing and it’s going to be easy and you are going to enjoy it. At the very least, you’re going to toss some salt onto the salad and then squeeze some lemon and oil over the whole thing. Or a bit of vinegar and oil. If you’re making a bowl of salad, mix up some oil and either citrus juice or vinegar in the bottom of the bowl, then add the greens. Throw in some salt and a few more fresh herbs or shallots or something and you’re done. And you’ve kept your dignity intact.
Maybe you’ve got some of your baby spinach and some local strawberries and chevre together and you want a dressing that’s a little bit sweet. You don’t have to go the corn syrup route! You pull out an old mustard jar, or some other kind of small jar, and add some mustard to the bottom. Then you add a bit of maple syrup, then vinegar (balsamic maybe because of the strawberries). Shake the whole thing together, add a bunch of olive oil (at least as much olive oil as mustard, maple syrup, and vinegar), and shake some more. Taste it and adjust the amounts until it’s right. There you go, isn’t that nice?
I made you a diagram to demonstrate how easy this is:
* Considered a weed, super delicious.