When it comes to salad dressing, go back to basics to make any vegetable dish glorious. Picture: PINKYONE/123RF
When it comes to salad dressing, go back to basics to make any vegetable dish glorious. Picture: PINKYONE/123RF

Salad dressing seems a trifling matter to dwell on, given the state of the world. But having a lousy salad for dinner isn’t going to help matters.

It’s been on my mind because I had the gargantuan misfortune a few days ago of inadvertently consuming a mouthful of leaves dressed with that quite incredible instant stuff still available in supermarkets. Clearly, restaurants are also still buying these bottles of crud from their suppliers. I really don’t understand using pre-made anything, when making your own is a palava and the alternatives are reasonable.

Puff pastry, for example, requires skill and time to make, and the ‘bought’ version can be pretty good, so why not? But the ready-made renditions of dressing are plain disgusting. Their mucous-like consistency bears no relation to any real dressing; the dried herbs often suspended in the alien-gloop are like bark, and their sharpness is reminiscent of the way tinfoil reacts to a filling. And yet, they get sold. Actual people buy them!

The only possible answer is that there’s a perception about salad dressing requiring some skill or time to make. In truth, it takes less time than making a cup of tea.

That there’s a perception about salad dressing requiring some skill or time to make. In truth, it takes less time than making a cup of tea.
Andrea Burgener

Now of course there are as many dressing recipes as there are salads and people, but all I’m talking about here is a basic (basic from an admittedly Eurocentric viewpoint) oil and acid type dressing; what a vinaigrette was originally based on. It doesn’t even need a recipe, but rather an understanding.

It has a logic which — before the bottles of supermarket phlegm appeared —  hasn’t needed much adapting since we inherited it from Roman times. All you need is salt, acid (vinegar or lemon) and oil, and each of these three ingredients must be good. The golden rule is that you will always include between three and four times more oil than acid. No good will come from doubting this ratio.

In his 2013 Bond escapade, Solo, William Boyd decides that Bond’s dressing has the oil and vinegar ratios swapped. It’s horrible, no surprise. As for salt, you need to add and taste. Here, as with seasoning your fried eggs, salt levels are very personal.

If it’s leaves you’re dressing, then the best and least known trick for keeping them from wilting is to make the dressing directly into the bowl: add just the oil to the leaves first, and coat gently and evenly. This protects them from the salt and vinegar. Salt with no chemical additions is obligatory (but you don’t need to go Maldon) — any top-quality cold-pressed oil you love will do — and the acid needs to be something which tastes good even on its own, and is chemical free.

We live in a bizarre world in which many vinegars have preservatives in them (which is a bit like putting preservatives into a preservative). With this basic template, you can make any bowl of raw vegetable matter glorious. And of course there’s nothing to stop you from throwing in a little garlic, black pepper or thyme with great confidence, knowing that anything you do can only be better than those bottles of ready-made salad ruination.