Are you a stylish dresser?

December 13, 2010

Do you find that some people have particular flair with dressing?

I used to be crap at salad dressings till one day many years ago when my friend Peter the painter told me his always-perfect dressing was one part vinegar to three parts oil, and I’ve stuck religiously to that ratio ever since.  I also invariably stick to the best extra-virgin olive oil I can find (which at the moment is the luscious Moon Over Martinborough oil, bought from Jared and Rick online via their beautiful and entertaining blog), and Giusti balsamic vinegar, which results in consistently good dressing.

But that consistency means I tend to play it rather safe – and given the amount of salad we eat over summer, the same ol’ dressing gets pretty boring.

Other great cooks of  my acquaintance – notably my dear friend Ms E – are much more adventurous with salad dressings. E is particularly enamoured of raspberry vinegar. She has very generously given me a couple of bottles over the years and I absolutely love it, specially with bitter leaves like rocket. And the Empress is a fan of a little walnut oil in her dressings, I know, and I’ve loved that too, but for some reason eventually revert to my boring old balsamic & oil combo.

But no more: I hereby announce my intention to revifify my salad dressings – and I shall need your help.

Now, before I send you over to where Jules at Stonesoup has gathered a very good list of her favourite dressings and tips for blinging up a salad, tell me your secrets.

I want your fave dressings – ingredients, ratios, combos, and applications. From vinaigrette to mayonnaise to herby numbers, sweet or sour, outlandish or classic, please share your best dressed ideas, so we can all give our salads a little more zing this summer …


  1. The proportions of oil to vinegar are spot on, no matter what the variables you want to add – and here are some of those I use for variety in various combinations: a teaspoon of strong honey, a good slug of French mustard, chopped tarragon leaves (delicate French, not the rough old Russian type!), a touch of sesame oil; use white wine vinegar instead of the red balsamic are add a little lemon juice – this is lovely and light for the more delicate leaves and combinations; OR red wine vinegar; BUT often I: just top up what’s in the dressing jar with whatever I feel like, which keeps it interesting – but the proportions of oil/vinegar remain stable.

  2. My main tip is to taste, taste, taste and taste as you go. Important for most parts of cooking, but particularly for dressings, where it’s all about balancing.

    My most frequent dressing ingredients are tahini, mustard, shoyu, preserved lemons, rice vinegar – not all at the same time – that would be a little too powerful even for me – but you can them to make sparky, oomphy dressings.

    I like to use tahini where I want a creamy salad dressing, without having to faff around making a mayonnaise.

    And then there are salads where I find a squeeze of lime juice is all that’s required.

  3. Oh yes and this “sauce” on Lucy’s blog makes an outstanding salad dressing. You need to use it on robust ingredients, for example I make an Asian-ish style coleslaw and toss the vegetables in this. Beautiful stuff: http://nourish-me.typepad.com/nourish_me/2010/09/peanut-sauce.html

  4. It’s such a hard thing to answer, because to me it’s completely dictated by what’s in the fridge, cupboard and garden each time.

    But one rather special one is black pumpkin seed oil and chestnut honey – both very intense ingredients. EVOO still the base, but a healthy slug of pumpkin seed oil, mustard, salt, pepper and a little honey. It’s more of an autumn/winter dressing, good with sturdier veg.

    I remember mentioning Richard Olney to you on twitter a little while ago – grab yourself a copy of his “Simple French Food” for some wonderful writing on salads.

  5. That’s funny, because one of my favourite dressings of the late ’90s used raspberry vinegar AND walnut oil… that recipe came from a really delish summery salad in Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, but I also picked up a pocket-sized dressings book from a checkout mag stand in about 1992 that remains in constant use in this home. Family Circle, I think it is, and it’s great for a whole range of dressings and sauces. I think it set me back about four bucks.

  6. Wow! I nip out for half an hour, and when I come back there’s a whole lotta salad love on my blog. Thankyou all, brilliant suggestions. Kathryn, I know I’m obtuse, but with tahini you just add to the oil/vinegar mix, right – not replacing either with it? Am definitely going to play around with some of these.

    Zoe, I am becoming rather drawn to your Mr Olney now, must investigate. Your dressing ingredients sound very sexy too, I must say. And thanks to you both too, Di & Glenda. Looks like I’m having salad every day from now on …

  7. Oh no, no, no. I use tahini as the foundation. It provides a lot of the oil, and then you just need to build up flavours from there and maybe add a bit of water to make it a runny consistency. Example (not to self-promote too much) is here: http://kathrynelliott.com.au/blog/2007/11/19/tahini-salad-dressing Note I always make my dressings quite sharp as I love that taste, so you may need to tweak around until you get the balance you like.

    I’ve even been known to just mash some preserved lemon into tahini and then water it down until runny. But that’s when I’m being very lazy.

    • Oh, fab. Love the preserved lemon idea too, we have heaps of it made by Senor some time ago and don’t use it enough.

      And any promotion of your wonderful blog here is absolutely fine by me, Kathryn – I hope everybody goes and checks it out. I’ve added Limes & Lycopene and Lucy’s Nourish Me blogs to the ‘sites I like’ list up there. Have a look, shuckers – both beautiful blogs.

      • Further to preserved lemon, there’s a recipe using that particular flavour bomb in the same little sauces book that is amazing with scallops… perhaps I find for you, yes?

  8. Oh, yes. That peanut sauce is grand!

    Olney is great Charlotte, the sort of book you take away on holiday thinking it’s all really complex food (his recipes are awfully long), but therein lies the beauty. He’s teaching his reader how to really cook, but his voice is never intrusive. Totally echo Zoe’s recommendation and thoughts.

    Kinda obsessed with apple cider vinegar at the ‘mo. Mellow, rounded, just sharp enough. Loving the ideas in here.

  9. …and Kathryn does a potato salad where the ‘mayo’ is diced avocado. Brilliant.

  10. We use white balsamic in our dressings quite a bit. Another favourite is a light wasabi mayo dressing (very nice over tatsoi with sliced pear or daikon and dressed with some crumbled wasabi peas – the good ones that come from Japan). In winter a roquefort dressing with crushed roasted hazlenuts over bitter leaves is yummy. Nice topic. I’ll be trying some of these combos as we eat salad nearly every night, winter and summer.

    • Gals, these sound very divine. Have never been confident with cider vinegar Lucy, but willing to give it a shot. And Louise I do have some white balsamic in the depths of the cupboard – your pear salad sounds amazing! Merry Christmas to you all, and thanks so much for these ideas.

  11. I swear by 1:4 maybe 3 and1/2 on occasion acid to oil! From lemon to house dressings, add whatever herb or spice you like, but that ratio will give you a great emulsification and blend!

    If I am dressing a salad or anything at home, I like to free pour like a good bartender, and I encourage everyone to do so as well its a great way to understand acidity.

    There is no bigger confidence builder than when you splash some vinegar, drizzle some olive oil and season some salad well, and the table goes wow what is the dressing and you respond I dunno a bit of this, a bit of that…. though the reality is, that its a well educated guess!! With dressings, trust your own palate!!

    If you really can’t, a good hand holder is;

    100ml balsamic/red, white wine vinegar
    teaspoon brown sugar
    teaspoon mustard (seeded or not)
    400ml olive oil
    salt and pepper
    In a jar, shake it like a polaroid picture!!

    Wins all the time!!

  12. Hamish – great advice, and thanks for popping in when your work is soooo busy. I have begun to do as you say, developing confidence in the mix. And I love to shake it like a polaroid. Happy Christmas to you, brother-from-another-mother! x

  13. You know that one weird person that comes and leaves a comment months after you’ve forgotten about your post?

    Yeah, that’s me. Sorry. Anyway, my sister-in-law has an amazing dressing for her wollumsam (Korean-style Vietnamese rice paper rolls)

    Tinned pineapple: process the chunks with 2-3cloves garlic, and then add the rest of the juice. Then add coriander roots, chopped fresh chilli and a bit of fish sauce. Really simple but so soooo sooo good. I always make mine extra spicy and extra garlic-y.

  14. Hey Elena, I LOVE that random person who pops up and reminds me of things past – and that dressing sounds quite amazing. I have embraced the pineapple this summer as never before so will definitely give this a try, thanks a million.

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