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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. I use this dressing all the time when we bbq, it’s great with blackened peppers, courgettes and aubergine. I also add some feta cheese to the final dish. Apologies in advance if you hate anchovies!
    Oregano and Anchovy Dressing
    75g canned anchovy fillets
    1 small garlic clove
    1 and 1/4 tbsp oregano, finely chopped
    juice of 1 lemon
    75ml Virgin olive oil
    1 tsp sun-dried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped
    fresh ground pepper
    Soak anchovy fillets in a little milk for 5 minutes, drain.
    Add anchovy, garlic, organo and half lemon juice into a blender and mix briefly. With motor running trickle oil very slowly until dressing is emulsified. Remove from machine, place in bowl and add tomatoes and more lemon to taste. Season with black pepper. You can also make this in a pestle and mortar – it just take longer! Lx

  2. Magic Cochin

    Thank you for nudging me to return to DIY salad dressings – I love the idea of making it into a ritual at the table.

    Recently I’ve been making salsa verde – lots of recipes online. This one from Jamie is excellent

    I vary it by which green herbs I can pick fresh from the garden and which pickles are in the cupboard/fridge – capers/anchovies/gherkins/olives. It’s lovely with any grilled fish and superb on new potatoes.

    It’s very like the green mojo served in the Canaries with pretty much everything.


  3. This is my standard salad dressing. Sorry about the vagueness of it, I’ve never actually measured the oil or vinegar. I make it in an old pesto or mustard jar.

    Fill the jar to between half and three quarters full with equal amounts of extra virgin olive oil and sunflower or groundnut oil. Add a splosh (technical term there!) of white wine or cider vinegar, salt and pepper, a teaspoon each of runny honey and wholegrain mustard and a peeled and squashed clove of garlic. Give it a good shake, leave for 10 mins, shake again and taste to see if it needs any more vinegar.

  4. Terry

    An interesting experiment last night…

    1 tspn djion
    2 tspn lemon curd
    2 tbspn olive oil
    2 tbspn of lemon juice
    Few drops of good balsamic
    Salt and pepper

    I discovered scillian lemon juice in Waitrose which has kicked off a week of lemon inspired dishes

  5. Javier

    Nice variation of a simple oil-vinegar dressing is to chop some garlic and fry it in some olive oil (not too much oil) then add that to the salad. Add some more raw oil if you like and vinegar to taste.

  6. Paula

    my mother in law makes an awfully good dressing with some Maggi, vinegar, fresh ground black pepper and oil. I don’t have a recipe. It’s like a teaspoon of Maggi, a teaspoon of vinegar, grind the pepper, and add a couple tablespoons of oil. Something like that.

    Michelle’s dressing sounds very like the one I make except I don’t add the sherry but I do add black pepper. If you make it with white or cider vinegar and add a couple teaspoons of honey you get a nice honey dijon dressing for a change.

    Then there’s ranch dressing- couple tablespoons of mayonnaise (not a sweet one!) and a tablespoon of buttermilk, a clove of mince garlic and some black pepper. You can also add some dried herbs to this to vary it, but make it ahead so that they’ll marry.

    And that’s pretty much the extent of my dressing repertoire.

    B sounds like a good candidate for an ex…

  7. Diane

    I dress green salads as taught me by my Italian grandmother first the salt and pepper from a great hight so it doesn’t clump then the vinegar [red wine] at this point toss, then finally the olive oil in a ratio of 3 to 1 with the vinegar then re toss. If you put the oil on first the vinegar will slip off the leaf and all end up in the bottom of the bowl. The other important thing is to dress the salad at the last possible moment as the acid will destroy the delicate leaf…

  8. A simple Sicilian dressing: some salt, pepper if you like, good olive oil and lemon juice. You could add thin shavings of parmesean cheese over the dressed leaves. This is particularly good with arugula (rocket).

  9. Michelle from Oregon

    Oops, that’s supposed to be sherry…

  10. Michelle from Oregon

    3 garlic cloves, crushed
    2 tsp Dijon mustard
    2 Tbs dry dherry
    2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
    6 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
    Adjust all to your particular taste.
    I make mine with homemade basil-shallot mustard. I also use this it coat vegatables with before I grill them, its wonderful…

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