November 6, 2013
Babies don’t come with a handbook, but motherhood certainly comes will a million competing ideas of how to “do it right,” especially when it comes to feeding. The good news is that you’re doing way better than you think, even if you think you’re doing an awesome job (because you are!). The even better news is that being a great family cook is simpler than you think, you just need to learn the ropes.
My “Family Cooking School” series is about helping you master a few basics across my 4?s P’s of family cooking—planning, pantry, prepping, and parenting—so that you can move from pre-baby cooking (or non-cooking!) to family cooking.
One of the most important family cooking skills is knowing how to make a good dressing. I know what you’re thinking: who needs dressing when my kid barely eats salad? The food nerd in me wants you know that your child can learn to love salad. By 7 or so (even earlier), lots of kids have reconciled with the leafy greens that freaked them out as toddlers, but exposure is key. That means you have to serve salad.
That aside, a good vinaigrette is so much more than salad dressing. It can dress pasta and grains, give flavor to steamed or roasted veggies, be mixed in with mayo to make a yummy sandwich spread, be used to to baste meats, served as a dipping sauce, and so much more.
A good dressing is worth its weight in gold. Now, how to make it.
The process is simple:
Begin with the classic 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar.
can should adjust per your family’s taste. For example, I usually end up with a ratio more like 2:1. Stick with a basic, mild oil such as olive, grapeseed or vegetable. Olive oil works in nearly every dressing, even ones with Asian flavors—it can be your go-to.
You can use lemon instead of or in combination with vinegar. If you use it instead of, switch to a 1:1 ratio of oil to lemon juice to start. If using in combination with vinegar, combine the two acids to get to your 3:1 ratio as per above and adjust to taste.
Add minced garlic or shallot.
If you have to, skip this in a real pinch. Try not to, though. If there’s time, allow the minced garlic or shallot sit in the vinegar—and only vinegar—for as few as 5 and as many as 15 minutes. Then, once the garlic or shallot has macerated, add the oil, salt and pepper. The only exception to this is when you’ll be using soy sauce, in which case skip the salt until the very end, after tasting to see if it’s necessary.
Add other ingredients, if using.
I almost always add a dollop of Dijon or other mustard and a pinch of sugar. Other options include:
Now whisk, shake or blend the dressing to emulsify.
And you’re done.
I gave a long list of “other ingredients” that span a variety of cuisines (and haven’t even scratched the surface of possibilities). They key to making your dressing great is knowing which of these ingredients go well together. Here’s a quick guide to help.
Here are some recipes to get you started.