French vinaigrette recipes are countless in their variety, and really know no limit. By following these
basic tips and recipes you will soon be creating you own flavorful combinations.
When I first came to France I fruitlessly looked for salad dressing at the grocery store. All I could ever find was the most basic dressings, simple combinations of vinegar and oil, perhaps with a few herbs or mustard. Where was the Thousand Island, the Blue Cheese, the Russian?
Then I came to realize that these dressings weren't on the grocery market shelves because the French approach to dressing a salad was different then that which I had grown accustomed to in the States. As with most French food, the emphasis is on complementing the flavors of the food, rather then covering ingredients up with thick and spicy flavors. Here salads are tossed with simple vinaigrette recipes, not with thick dressings.
For example, instead of making a blue cheese dressing, you crumble the blue cheese into the salad and then dress lightly with a simple oil and vinegar mixture, allowing the blue cheese as well as the other ingredients each to shine through.
Vinaigrette recipes are so simple to prepare. With an extra two minutes of kitchen work, you can come up with something that will truly enhance your salad ingredients, rather then just smothering them into submission. Let's start with the basic concept, the beginning to most
easy salad recipes.
In a bowl, mix the salt and pepper into the vinegar. Using a whisk, beat in the oil.
This makes about 1/2 cup of dressing. For me, that's enough for 8 salads, but you may prefer your salad more or less dressed.
That's it. One of the shortest recipes in the world. Now for the fun part.
Tips and Variations
Always stir any seasonings into the vinegar before combining with the oil. Salt, for example will not blend into your vinaigrette recipes after you have mixed them.
If you don't want to whisk, then shake. I put the ingredients in a jar or bottle and shake away. This is convenient because you can save any leftovers in the refrigerator in the same jar. Normally you can safely keep your vinaigrette for a week. Some salad dressing mixers are so pretty, you'll be happy to put them on the table.
The classic proportions of vinegar to oil is about one to three.
For the vinegar: use red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar (a current favorite
of mine), raspberry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, tarragon vinegar - I could go on - you get the idea. You could also substitute lemon juice or another citrus juice for the vinegar (not sure you can call it a vinaigrette though!)
For the oil: use safflower oil, canola oil, olive oil, walnut oil (use this and other nut oils
in small quantities, perhaps about a fourth of all the oil in the recipe, otherwise they can be too strong).
Add your choice of seasonings: chopped garlic, chopped shallots, chopped fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, chives are all popular ingredients), various spices (try cumin or a dash of cayenne), a pinch of sugar or a teaspoon of honey, mustard (1 teaspoon for a half cup of dressing is about right).
For a low-cal version, substitute water for part of the oil, or you can replace the oil entirely with non-fat yogurt if you are feeling really ascetic.
Think about the ingredients of your salad. This is supposed to be fun, like creating your own work of art. How can you best complement your salad ingredients with a vinaigrette? Keep it simple and you won't fail.
To give you an idea of what you can come up try tossing the following vinaigrette with a salad of fresh spinach, toasted pine nuts and sliced strawberries.