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A Simple Vinaigrette, Two Ways

Julia Child's classic vinaigrette calls for stirring shallots with mustard and salt before adding liquid ingredients. (Photo by Charlie Huget)

When you buy a bag of Cheetos, you know just what to do with it: Rip it open and devour the DayGlo-colored contents.

But it's harder for some of us to figure out what to do with a bag of fresh brussels sprouts, green beans or other offerings from the local farm stand or farmer's market. As Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, notes in today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, it's great to encourage folks to eat swiss chard and kale. But if they don't know how to turn those vegetables into a tasty dish, they may never try them again.

Whisking oil into the vinegar mixture drop by drop creates an emulsion. Instead of whisking, you can just shake everything together in a jar. The result's not as pretty but tastes great. (Photo by Charlie Huget)

Doiron, who's helping mount a campaign to get people to celebrate Independence Day by eating locally produced foods, says knowing how to make a simple vinaigrette is a good step toward learning to enjoy fresh-picked vegetables. Sprinkled atop a bed of greens or drizzled on lightly steamed or grilled veggies, a vinaigrette brings out produce's flavor without overpowering it.

Because it's so simple, though, vinaigrette depends on your using quality vinegar and oil. It doesn't take a lot of either ingredient, so you should splurge on buying the best-tasting kinds you can afford.

Here's my whisked vinaigrette, ready to meet a salad! (Photo by Charlie Huget)

Doiron recommends Julia Child's recipe, which tweaks the classic vinaigrette proportions (one part vinegar to three parts oil) in favor of going light on the vinegar, at least at first. As he notes, you can always add more, but you can't remove it once it's in there. (You can of course add more oil to compensate, but it's easier just to work with one variable here.)

It's up to you to decide which other tastes you like in your vinaigrette, from shallots to scallions, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and in what quantities. It's fun to play around and come up with a mix that suits you best.

When making vinaigrette, there's the classic way -- slowly whisk the oil into the other ingredients, drop by drop, creating a stable emulsion -- and there's the shortcut -- throw everything into a jar and shake till it's blended. I tried both the other day, and though the whisked version was prettier (its color was lighter), both tasted pretty much the same. I didn't add salt to either, as I find Dijon mustard salty enough, but you might want to add a dash.

If you have a favorite vinaigrette (or other home-made dressing), please share your recipe in the comments section.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 30, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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My grandmother was of German/Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry. Just about everything she cooked had bacon and onions in it. She used to make a hot salad dressing to pour over leaf lettuce. The EVOO/wine vinegar snobs will probably turn their noses up at it, but we thought it was delicious. Leaf lettuce is different from head lettuce; it has a slightly bitter taste. We always had several rows growing in our garden.

Cook 5-6 slices of bacon until crisp. Crumble the bacon and set aside; save the drippings. Add 1/2 C. green onion to the drippings and cook until tender. Add 1/4 C vinegar, 1/4 C water, 4 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt to the drippings/onion mixture, stir and cook until boiling. Pour hot dressing over 8 C. of leaf lettuce, torn into pieces, in a heatproof bowl. Toss until lettuce is coated, top with crumbled bacon. Serve immediately.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | June 30, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

That does sound good....My grandmother did something similar with a big cast-iron pot of beans (green and lima). It was delicious; I don't want to think about all the bacon grease those beans soaked up, though.

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | June 30, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Two of my favorite dressings (one a vinaigrette, one not):

1) Red wine vinegar and oil in equal amounts (usually 1/4 cup each for my purposes), a bit of lemon juice (either a hefty squeeze from the bottle or a half to a whole lemon's worth, to taste), & enough black pepper to mostly cover the surface of the mix.

2)(with a shout-out to my friend A. in AR) Equal parts lime juice and honey (usually 1/4 cup for my purposes, again), a teensy bit of oil (about half as much as the lime juice), and about an inch's worth of cut up ginger root (or a few hefty shakes of the ground ginger container). (This one is particularly good if you have someone who doesn't really like vinegar but doesn't want to eat the vegetables raw.)

Take each combination, put it into a jar, screw the cap on tightly, and shake it vigorously (over the sink!).

Posted by: | June 30, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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