The Cottage Smallholder

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In search of a good salad dressing

Scented geraniums

Scented geraniums

Over 20 years ago, when I was married to my ex-husband B, we went to supper with one of his old college friends. Let’s call her Lucy. She had lived in Italy for a while and this is where she’d met her Italian husband. We’ll call him Maximus. They had a little girl – very pretty and bright so I think that Bella would be a good name to protect her privacy.

Somehow the evening was awkward. Perhaps they had had a row? Possibly we had – I just don’t remember.

They were living in a rented flat. Maximus didn’t speak much English. Lucy and I were a bit apprehensive about each other. My marrige was rocky and she was a confidante.

On arrival we all sat at a small table, beside a window and sipped wine. Then Lucy announced
“It’s time to dress the salad.”
I imagined that she would rustle something up in a jam jar. But she bought a large bowl to the table along with all her ingredients.

After about ten minutes I realised that here ‘dressing the salad’ was something of a ritual. The dressing was created with enormous care and then the salad ingredients added one by one. I watched as every leaf became coated with a thin layer of oil and vinegar. Maximus nodded, and watched with a glazed and slightly reverent look. The leaves were tossed and teased within the glass bowl for minutes that seemed to stretch for hours.

Meanwhile B was playing with Bella. Some sort of simple hiding and snatching game. She was loving it. Screaming with joy when she won. Suddenly B took advantage of his size and dexterity. He won.

Bella shrieked with disbelief, hurt and rage. The salad was forgotten.
“She has to learn how to lose.”
“But she’s only three!”
Maximus reached forward and lifted his child gently onto his lap. As he rocked her his tone was protective. Bella was wary when she glanced at B. I just wanted to get up and walk away into the dusk.

Bella’s sobs were long forgotten when we eventually sampled the salad. It was good but not exceptional. Perhaps it had been tainted with the kerfuffle between the two B’s?

Since then, whenever I make a salad dressing I think of that dark room, the sunlight, that salad bowl and Bella’s sobs.

Cathy from the good blog Growing Curious left a pertinent comment on my last post.
“What do you dress your salads with?”
And there’s the rub.

I hate to admit this but I’ve never made a great salad dressing. I just don’t seem to have the knack. So I need help here – I’d love to hear your ideas for a good salad dressing and I can guarantee that Danny would appreciate your generosity.

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  1. Anita Chambelton

    I know this is an old thread, but I found it and loved it , so wanted to add my mums recipe.
    Its it absolutely delicious and myself and my family do not eat any other dressing 🙂
    oh.. as for the measurements, by ‘cup’ we literally mean, ‘go to your cupboard and grab a mug you use for coffee/tea to use for measuring this recipe’
    it will come out perfect as you are measuring within proportion.

    1/2 cup sunflower or olive oil
    1/4 cup malt vinegar (any colour)
    1 large onion finely chopped
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon white pepper
    1 tablespoon white sugar
    Evaporated milk to thicken

    Makes enough for 2 bowls

    Method :-

    Put oil , vinegar , pepper and salt in a bowl. Whisk until it seems slightly thickened, about 2 minutes should do.
    Then stir in the onions and sugar.
    Properly mix.
    Then while beating with a fork, stir in evaporated milk until it is thickened to your liking.
    Taste, and add a bit more pepper or salt ( NOT sugar) as desired.
    This will keep in airtight container in the fridge up to 5 days, just stir and pour over your finely sliced cucumber, OR washed/dries lettuce, OR drained/rinsed tinned whole green beans.

  2. Petro

    Hi there, been a reader of this blog for a year or so. But as a couple of others commented, you are so good at painting “food pictures”.

    Years ago I’ve come across something written by MFK Fisher printed in a local magazine that I loved and has ever since been a great fan of that type of article.

    This post were the closest to her kind of writing that I’ve ever come across. Bravo!

  3. mrsmortis

    I learnt this one in Germany and it’s the one I use as standard. No measures I’m afraid as I’ve always done it on sight. It works best on dark green leaves. I particularly like it with lambs lettuce.

    A splash of white wine vinegar
    A bigger splash of olive oil
    A good pinch of salt
    A finally chopped shallot
    A teaspoon or two of mustard seeds

  4. Robert

    For substantial veg equal portions of lemon juice to olive oil. For leaves, usually just lemon juice. I am not that good with dressings as a rule.

  5. cathy

    It’s great to read all the comments here. I don’t have a formal dressing recipe, but I’ve discovered an important trick: use two different acids (lemon and red wine vinegar, balsamic and apple cider vinegar, mustard with sherry vinegar, etc.).

    I also have found that Aleppo pepper (a sweet-mildly hot Turkish pepper) is a wonderful addition. Usually, I use the juice of one lemon, red wine vinegar, one or two garlic cloves, black pepper, Aleppo pepper, sea salt, and then add olive oil at the end.

    Everyone always says, “What’s in this dressing? It’s wonderful!” But they say that about all of my dressings, and I finally realized that people were appreciating the impact of the two different acids.

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