Up until recently, I’d always been rather lazy when it came to making my own salad dressing. My husband and I had found a couple of types of bottled dressing we liked fairly well, so I almost always opted to save time and use those. But after my Sophisticated Sauces class at Escoffier, the comment the instructor made about how it really is quick to make your own dressing, and so very worth it, I decided to put in a little more effort and make my own. I started making dressing using a recipe for Champagne Vinaigrette on Epicurious.com (but cutting the olive oil down by a little more than half, and using agave instead of honey (our honey is always rock hard and in need of melting)). I don’t even bother with a whisk. Since I make just a small amount of dressing at one time (about 7 tablespoons), I just use a large coffee mug and a small fork. I mix all the ingredients except the oil together, and then pour the oil in a thin stream from a measuring spoon while I beat the dressing with the fork. And the result of using that method is a very nicely emulsified dressing. (Mustard and honey both act as emulsifiers in vinaigrette, allowing the otherwise unfriendly vinegar and oil to mix together.)

After a few rounds of champagne vinaigrette, I started using different types of vinegar in the recipe – balsamic, white balsamic, and white wine vinegar. Then I started getting a little more adventurous with fruit flavor. I reduced some pomegranate juice and used that with white balsamic vinegar. Pretty good, but not all that pomegranatey. Then one day, as I was browsing in Whole Foods, I saw something called Pomegranate Molasses. The only ingredient in it was pomegranate juice, so I surmised that it was just extremely reduced pomegranate. That sounded like just the thing for my dressing. I used white wine vinegar to reduce the competition of flavors even further. It resulted in some great tasting dressing, but I’m not convinced that you could pick out pomegranate as the fruity taste. The pomegranate molasses, however, is wonderful. It’s also referred to as pomegranate syrup, but I can see why it’s called pomegranate molasses, due to the dark, rich color, and a tiny hint of molasses flavor. I think it would be outstanding on top of ice cream.

My most successful dressing to date was made with ingredients I’m still a bit surprised I actually thought to put together (but am oh, so glad I did!). The core ingredient was a discovery I made when I walked into Oliverde in downtown Boulder to check out the vinegars. My husband and I had visited the store weeks earlier, and bought some wonderful, seriously authentic tasting olive oil (the really, really good stuff is so much greener, grassier tasting than anything I had sampled before). But Oliverde also has a wide array of vinegars, so I went in and tasted samples of several of them. And then I happened upon the espresso balsamic. Not one to pass up anything with coffee or chocolate flavors, I sampled it. Oh, my! Wow. I really can’t even begin to describe how good this balsamic is. It’s got a gorgeous, dark molasses color, and a full, rich, bracing, slightly sweetish flavor. I knew immediately that I was going home with a bottle of it. I began planning the evening’s salad as soon as I left the store. I bought some arugula, thinking the bitter flavor would contrast well with the more sweetish/acidic taste of the vinegar. I also had some gorgonzola cheese left over, which would go well with both, and picked up a few Medjool dates to add on top.

I planned to make a vinaigrette, and thought a bit about what I should use with the espresso balsamic. I decided to use sesame oil for 1/3 of the oil (olive oil for the rest), as well as maple syrup instead of agave. And the results were stellar. The sesame oil gave it a rich, nutty taste, the maple syrup gave it some great sweetness, and the espresso balsamic…just made it awesome. Used on the arugula with the Medjool dates and gorgonzola, it was outstanding. It is a fairly rich, sweet dressing, so I think it’s best paired with some type of greens that are a bit more bitter-tasting, like arugula. It’s possible you could play around with a small shot of espresso and regular balsamic and perhaps come close to approximating the taste – but I would suggest trying just a bit of espresso and balsamic first to see if it’s palatable before using all the ingredients. And, if you’re near Boulder, CO, I strongly suggest stopping in at Oliverde and getting the real thing!

Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette Ingredients

Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette Ingredients

Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette
makes about 8-11 Tbsp – double or triple for more

2 Tbsp espresso balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 to 4 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard (or Dijon)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 to 1/4 tsp pepper
1 dash Tabasco
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix the garlic, mustard, and maple syrup. (I use a large mug). Add the lemon juice, espresso vinegar, salt, pepper, and Tabasco, and mix well. Using a fork (or whisk if you’re making a larger amount), and briskly whisking the dressing continuously, you will add the oil in a very thin stream. Continuous whisking is important in order to emulsify the dressing well. I only used 1 Tbsp of sesame oil, and 2 Tbsp of olive oil, but I have a freakishly strong affinity for vinegar. You might want to use up to 3 times that amount of oil (the classic ratio is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil). Start with 1 Tbsp of sesame and 2 Tbsp of olive oil, taste the dressing, and add more oil to your liking.

I’ve seen varying opinions on how long the dressing safely keeps in the fridge, largely due to the added garlic. I’ve seen a few sites with people saying not to store anything with raw garlic in the fridge, but I also found a reference from Oregon State University stating that raw garlic in oil can be refrigerated safely for three weeks, and Joy of Cooking says vinaigrette may be refrigerated for two weeks. To completely avoid any food safety issues, use it all that day.  Personally, I make dressing weekly, and throw out any left over from the previous week.

Arugula with Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette, Gorgonzola and Medjool Dates

Arugula with Espresso Sesame Maple Vinaigrette, Gorgonzola and Medjool Dates

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Stunning Side Salads

August 18, 2011

My husband and I have always eaten a lot of salads for dinner. We almost always order them when we eat out, and they figure prominently as a side (alternating with steamed vegetables) to our entrees at home. Up until recently, we had nearly always purchased the prewashed, packaged lettuce, which really is kind of pathetic at times. I have just always been too lazy to wash, dry, and tear fresh lettuce.  But I finally decided that it was worth it, and since I’ve been buying a lot of greens at the Farmers’ Market, it has become a necessity.  So I’ve pulled out the salad spinner, and I just rinse and spin the greens, then roll them in a towel to dry while I prepare everything else. I’ve also started making my own dressing, which really makes all the difference between a salad that’s as good as what you’d get in a restaurant, and one that is pretty much of a let down.

One of the great things about salads is that you can pretty much throw in whatever leftover vegetables you have.  If you’re like me and you seem to buy several more items than you need, it’s a great way to use up extra tomatoes, carrots, beets, and squash.  I also like to mix different kinds of greens together, because it provides a nice contrast of flavors and textures.

So here’s a gallery of all the salads that I’ve made over the past couple months:

Arugula with Carrots, Kohlrabi and Cinnamon Cayenne Almonds

Bloody Mary Salad

Arugula with Beets and Carrots

Field Greens with Zucchini, Yellow Squash, and Carrots

Red Lettuce and Arugula with Heirloom Tomatoes, Carrots, and Pattypan Squash

Baby Russian Red Kale with Tomatoes, Carrots, and Kohlrabi

Sauteed Kale with Beets and Goat Cheese

Mixed Greens with Dill and Nasturtiums

Greens with Fava Beans, Beets, Kohlrabi, Carrots, Tomatoes, and Kohlrabi

Mixed Greens and Arugula with Roasted Beets, Tomatoes and Carrots

Greek Tomato Cucumber Salad

Arugula with Watermelon Radish and Dragon Carrot

Arugula with Watermelon Radish and Dragon Carrot

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