The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

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. Sissi

    I enjoyed your post a lot. I have noticed already some time ago you are an incredible story teller.
    I am a big fan of the Japanese cuisine and apart from the “standard” vinaigrette in many variations I prepare very often a vinaigrette influenced by the Japanese cuisine. I simply shake everything in a jar (the sauce can wait a long time in the fridge, but the sesame seeds have to be added just before the salad is served):

    3 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (or more if using the low-sodium sauce)
    2 tablespoons vinegar (I put rice vinegar, but it can be any other rather neutral, not too sweet vinegar, for ex. white wine vinegar)
    3 tablespoons grilled white sesame seeds (best if freshly grilled on a pan)
    2 tablespoons oil (olive oil works is as excellent here as sesame oil, although the taste is different)

  2. Jean | Delightful Repast

    That was an amazing post! I felt as if I were right there at the table with you. Reminded me of a similar dinner and salad kerfuffle my aunt told me about. You’ve inspired me to try to capture it on the page. Glad I discovered your blog. I’ve been interested in self-sufficiency since watching Good Neighbors (think it was called The Good Life over there). You two are the new Tom and Barbara!

  3. Beach Bum

    I have a recipe that works pretty well. So well, in fact, that I’ve forgotten the actual amounts.

    I think this is about right…
    Acid: 1/4 cup (vinegar, citrus, or a mixture)
    Oil: 2/3 cup (I find all olive oil is too much)
    Emulsifier: ~2 tsp dijon mustard, or one egg yolk
    salt and pepper to taste
    spices: garlic, cayenne, etc.
    sweet: honey or maple syrup to taste

  4. Linda

    What a brilliant idea for a post. I make what seems like a boring dressing compared with some – 3 parts e/v olive oil, 1 part best poss balsamic, hefty pinch or two of dried basil – in a jar, shaken, but – it improves with keeping in the fridge, so I usually make enough for a few days. As well as on salad leaves, I also use this on a chopped tomato and red onion salsa – prepared about an hour before eating. Dark and quite velvety.

  5. Marion

    Being constantly on a diet, I just squeeze a lemon over salads. But then, I love lemons so much that I’d have them on everything.
    I even roast chickens and lamb in lemon juice.

  6. Liz that sounds wonderful, and as we are about to enter courgette glut time, I’ll be giving that a try very soon. Isn’t this website/blog great? I’ve learned so much here – and I’ll be eternally grateful to Fiona for recommending halogen ovens. I’d be completely lost without mine now. Thank you.

  7. Amalee Issa

    Fiona & Danny,

    With the usual blah-blah-blah disclaimer re sizes of spoons, nozzles and jam jars, here’s not only a foolproof recipe for a dressing, but a GinAndTitanic-proof one.

    Into a smallish jam jar, pour about 6 seconds worth of EV olive oil.
    Add one longish seconds of French walnut vinegar.
    Add two longish seconds of bog standard lemon juice in a bottle (from Asda 50p, but never put this in yr quadruple Bombay n’ tonic)
    Add a heaped coffee spoon of grainy mustard.
    Add a teaspoon of nice citrusy runny honey.
    Add a bit of Maldon.

    Screw lid on and shake like a mad thing for a few moments.
    (Taste it, and if it seems balanced, proceed. If one thing predominates, add something at the opposite end to your taste buds.)

    Pour over your salad, hot new potatoes, green beans, etc etc. It’s lovely over a mixed warmish bean salad. Good with pearl barley salad, too.


  8. Joanna

    I took an aversion to dressings in America when salads would come drenched in dressing until I learnt to ask for the dressing on the side or just a slice of lemon. I have used a dressing from time to time and that consists of just orange juice, balsamic vinegar and herbs.

  9. Juanita

    I don’t have a dressing for you, as I tend to eat salad plain, but wanted to comment on how magnificently tangible your story was. The memory was so well-explained that I felt like I was in that room, with all the pensive emotions attached. Nicely done.

  10. Marget

    I’m allergic to garlic, olive, onions, and a smattering of preservatives, so we always make our dressing at home. Here are the favorites:

    For plain or lettuce-and-tomato salads:

    1/3 cup cider vinegar
    1/3 cup corn oil (substitute olive if you can)
    2 tsp. dried basil
    1 tsp. dried oregano
    pinch of salt
    pinch of sugar
    pinch of black pepper
    pinch of ground mustard seed

    whisk or shake in a small tub with a lid.

    For creamy dressing, follow same recipe, adding some grated Parmesan and about 2/3 c mayonnaise. It usually takes the electric mixer to get all the lumps out.

    There aren’t often other greens for sale in our local market, but when they have endive and radicchio, we try this salad:

    1 head of red radicchio to 2 Belgian endives cut cross-ways into little rosettes, 1/2 a ripe pear cut into 7mm cubes and 1 oz mild cheese such as dry-packaged mozzarella, also cut into tiny cubes

    Dress with:
    1/3 c oil
    1/3 c cider vinegar
    1 Tbsp. lemon juice
    1 Tbsp. honey

    When I find dandelions in my yard, I make this salad:
    Cook a piece of bacon or 2 and crumble.
    Wilt dandelion greens by sprinkling them (sparingly) with the hot bacon fat. Add whisky-boiled golden raisins and little bits of chevre. Sprinkle with just a little vinegar.

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