Snappy spring salad dressings

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Bright and bitter greens with colorful vegetables beg to be dressed. There are hundreds of varietal lettuces to choose, from the somewhat humble iceberg to the peppery, flavorful arugula to the bitter dandelion and frisee (not my favorite, but fine tossed in a big salad). Each deserves a dressing that will enhance the greens.

Bitter greens are delicious with a sweeter balsamic dressing. Iceberg works with a creamy, zesty topping (think of the delightful wedge salad), while staunch and steady romaine lettuce can wear almost any flavorful dressing. My favorite green is arugula. I add golden beets, grilled peaches, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese and dress it with a lemon nut vinaigrette.

A basic dressing consists of oil, vinegar and seasoning. The key is the balance of acidity to oil.The ratio of oil to vinegar is a source of preference. The general rule is a 3to1 ratio of oil to vinegar; alas, rules are meant to be broken.

Emulsify your dressing
Do you shake the dressing or blend it? Add a touch of Dijon mustard or mayo? Is it important to emulsify a dressing? Emulsifying a dressing keeps it from separating, ensuring it evenly flavors and adheres to greens. When mixed, vinegar and herbs sink to the bottom and separate from the oil. Even after shaking it and pouring it over the greens, the oil will stick to the greens and the vinegar to the bottom of the bowl, leaving a flavorless salad.

Emulsifying a dressing by adding mustard, mayonnaise, miso, agave or honey creates a well-blended, flavorful dressing. Use a whisk, fork or blender to combine the ingredients.

Oil and vinegar
There are many types of oils to pick from. I prefer olive oil, but avocado oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil or a lovely, flavorful infused oil are just a few of the oils that can be used as a base.

There are also many kinds of vinegars. Some basics are red wine, balsamic vinegar, rice wine, apple cider vinegar and seasonal flavored vinegar.

Citrus is another way to add acidity to a dressing. I love a good lemon vinaigrette, lime cilantroor a tasty tangerine or orange dressing.

Infusing oil is a wonderful way to add flavor to oils with garlic, shallots, fresh herbs or diced red onion. These add some snappy pep to the oil, making dressings even more flavorful.

Can you infuse vinegar? Use a base vinegar, such as white wine, red wine, balsamic or champagne vinegar and add fresh herbs, garlic or fruit (think berries or citrus) and let sit for two to four weeks in the pantry, stirring it every other day.

Wine to vinegar
Have you ever had to throw away half a bottle of unfinished wine or champagne? Instead, make your own vinegar with the leftovers. Put the wine or champagne in a jar, cover with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and rubber band with no lid to allow it to breath and set aside in the pantry for two to four weeks. After four weeks, do a taste test. If the liquid is tangy like vinegar, remove the cheesecloth and cover with a lid. Store in a cool, dark place.

Salad pairings
In addition to thinking about the type greens the salad is being prepared with, I also think about what I am serving for a main course when I consider what dressing to use. I might lean into a lighter dressing if the main course is Italian or a heavier one. If I make a Greek dish for dinner, a traditional Greek or Fattoush salad lends itself to a red wine, vinegar-based dressing. For a Mexican meal, I might lean into a cilantro lime dressing, which can be light or creamy. For an Asian dinner, I love a ginger miso dressing or a sesame ginger carrot dressing. Thematic menus cry out for a salad dressing to match.

Creamy dressings are delightful. A creamy Caesar dressing, buttermilk ranch or a creamy gorgonzola match with certain salads.

Nuts are another great way to create a dressing. They add richness and a lovely flavor. I love a good, toasted pine-nut dressing. Nutritional yeast adds a cheesy flavor to dressings. Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper will round out the dressing.

Salad dressings also make excellent marinades for vegetables and meats. I love marinating vegetables in Italian dressing and grilling them.

Infused Oil
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

Add 1 cup of olive oil to a jar. Add pressed garlic and allow it to sit on the counter to infuse for at least an hour. This makes a good base for a vinaigrette or a Caesar dressing.

Red Wine & kitchen of Priya Hutner
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

¾ C extra virgin olive oil
3 T red wine vinegar
2 T shallots, minced
½ t Dijon mustard
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Add ingredients to a jar, mix well, and chill. For a creamy dressing, add to a blender.

Lemon Nut Vinaigrette Dressing
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

3 oz pine nuts or walnuts toasted
¾ C olive oil
¼ C red wine vinegar
1 t fish sauce (optional)
2 T water
2 t fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, pressed
Pinch of red chili flakes
1 t coarse salt
½ t fresh ground pepper

Toast the nuts lightly in a pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix vinegar, fish sauce, water and lemon juice. Add nuts, lemon juice, garlic, chili flakes, salt, pepper and half of the vinegar mixture to a food processor and blend until well combined. Slowly add the olive oil and the rest of the vinegar mixture to the processor. Add more salt, lemon or vinegar if desired.