Hallelujah spring! I think you have finally broken through the barriers of winter and at least in my neighborhood, you are here to stay. Even people who say they don’t eat seasonally will probably agree it is time to step away from the stews and toss a fresh salad.
Do you make your own salad dressing? Now, don’t turn away from this blog—and I ask because when we teach cooking classes, it appears that making your own vinaigrette seems foreign. People seem to have the mistaken idea think that a basic salad dressing is tough to make. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Balsamic Vinaigrette requires just 3 basic ingredients, plus salt and pepper, and goes together in a moment. It is super easy and it will taste just like the delicious vinaigrettes served at restaurants.
Growing up, the salad dressings my mom served were from a bottle. Here in Kansas City, The Wishbone Restaurant was a favorite and yes, that was the birthplace of bottled Wishbone salad dressings. I never recall my mom whisking a dressing. She was a great cook and I think we had salad every night, but our salad dressings always came from that purchased bottle. Let’s change that way of thinking.
Yes, those restaurant salads are so good. In addition to the dressing, the greens are fresh, crisp and dry so the dressing doesn’t drip off. (Read how Roxanne insures dry greens in this blog post she wrote for The Kansas City Star’s Chow Town blog.) Then, top the greens with your favorites. This time of year I often add strawberries, mushrooms, red onions and caramelized pecans or walnuts.
The caramelized nuts are among my favorite salad additions. Finally, you can purchase them at some stores, but they are super easy to make.
You don’t have to wait to go to a fancy restaurant to enjoy a great spring salad with fresh balsamic vinaigrette and caramelized nuts. Celebrate the coming of spring with these easy recipes and toss a fantastic salad at home.
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a small, deep bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The dressing will become thickened as you whisk. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, or additional oil, if desired.
Balsamic vinegars vary by brand so experiment. Get in the habit of tasting the vinegar and you will soon find your favorites.
Classic vinaigrette dressings have evolved. Years ago they commonly contained more oil, up to about 4 times the amount of oil to the amount of the vinegar or acidic juice. This recipe uses just a 2 to 1 ratio (2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.) I think this reflects the fact that our tastes have changed and we enjoy lighter, healthier foods. Once made, taste the dressing and whisk in additional oil if you desire.
Caramelized Pecans or Walnuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash salt, or to taste
1 cup pecan halves or walnut pieces
Melt the butter in a small, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute or until mixture comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Stir in the nuts. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat, for 2 minutes or until the sugar is melted and the syrup evenly coats the nuts.
Pour the nuts onto a wax paper lined tray and allow to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week or seal in an airtight container and store in the freezer for longer storage.
Makes 1 cup