Something about a well-crafted salad gets me every time.
It’s the first thing I check out on menus while out and more often than not, it’s the thing I most crave mid-day. Whatever is in my fridge will probably find its way into a salad of some kind. Leftover chicken, garbanzos, quinoa, grilled vegetables — you name it, it’s probably been thrown in a salad chez Kline.
In picture above you can see what I had for lunch one day this week. I still had these gorgeous greens from the PSU Farmer’s Market and I wanted to use them up while they were still pin-up pretty. I also had a good-sized log of goat cheese and a handful of pears that had just hit the ripe mark. See where I am going with this?
I heated up my toaster oven, and while that was getting ready, I whipped up what I call my Everyday Vinaigrette.
I think the Bottled Dressing Mafia has spent millions of dollars convincing most Americans that they are incapable of making a dressing. If we were to believe them, vinaigrettes or salad dressings are best left in the hands of professionals who sell back to you a concoction made mostly of ingredients you probably already have — oil, vinegar, salt — and then add sugar and xanthan gum and heaven what knows else to it. All for a princely sum.
Don’t get me wrong. I used to only buy that kind of thing (I grew up on Wishbone and Thousand Island, after all) and still on occasion will break down and buy a bottle, but now only for something specialty (like Trader Joe’s excellent fresh Cilantro Dressing). But for ninety percent of the time, what I need is just thirty seconds and a good shake away.
Walk with me a minute. Don’t worry, we are only going as far as my pantry.
I am going to grab vinegar, oil (I like olive oil or avocado), a shallot, garlic, a little salt and pepper. The tarragon mustard I retrieve from the fridge.
Want to see the magic happen?
Put all ingredients in a jar with a tight lid and shake. Done.
Did you get that? Wasn’t so hard, right?
I am sure many of you do this already but having taught cooking classes for all those years in San Francisco, I am always a little shocked by how many of even the most daring cooks can be intimidated when it comes to making their own dressings.
The basic proportions of any good dressing is roughly 3-to-1 fat to vinegar/acid, and the fat can be oil, 1/2 and 1/2, cream (or a little of both) and the acid can include any kind of citrus. If you are starting out with something sweeter (say fresh orange juice), you can cut back the oil by a lot.
Mustard, while optional, will help it emulsify (so will a raw egg yolk but I don’t risk it). Diced shallots and garlic are fantastic additions but also not vital. Parmesan, fresh herbs or even a little gorgonzola would all be delicious as well.
And here is a trick I learned when cooking at Greens Restaurant; to see if your vinaigrette is calibrated, don’t sample from a spoon. Dip a leaf (or bite of whatever your salad is made up) in the vinaigrette; it may seem too oily or sharp straight up but might be perfect when sampled with the other ingredients. That’s the true test.
The handy thing about making it in a jar is two-fold. One, you can just sort of eyeball 2-3 times as much oil as vinegar by watching the side of the cup, and two, you can keep it in the fridge in the same container for use throughout the week. It’s amazing what a little bit can do when spooned into a pot of beans, drizzled on warm fish or grilled vegetables like asparagus.
Getting back to my lunch, I covered a disc of goat cheese with pecans and fresh rosemary from my garden and warmed it up in the toaster oven until the goat cheese was soft and the nuts lightly toasted. I had some Grand Central Baking Co.’s Como loaf so I toasted that, too. I tossed the greens, pear, avocado and warm goat cheese with vinaigrette so that the cheese was spread throughout the salad. Boom.
And because I officially made it Take Care of Me Day, I included a little something else on the side.
Welcome to my happy.
- 2 oz. fresh salad greens
- 2-3 oz. fresh goat cheese
- ¼ C. pecans
- ½ ripe avocado, cut into slices or chunks
- ½ -1 ripe pear, cut into slices
- Everyday Vinaigrette
- 1 Tbs. tarragon mustard (or any nice one)
- 2 Tbs. aged red wine vinegar
- 3 Tbs. olive or avocado oil
- 3 Tbs. ½ and ½ or cream
- 1 heaping tsp. diced shallot
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- pinch of salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Press pecans into disc of goat cheese and put on foil-wrapped cookie sheet.
- Warm in oven until goat cheese gets soft, about 6-8 minutes. (if adding croutons, do now)
- While goat cheese is warming, place all vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and give a vigorous shake.
- Put avocado, pear and salad greens in bowl, toss with a tiny bit of vinaigrette.
- Either serve goat cheese alongside or toss gently in with the salad.