oil + vine­gaR = tasty peR­fec­tion

Sim­ple or fla­vored, vinai­grettes make per­fect po­tions for sum­mer sal­ads

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ad­die Broyles Amer­i­cAn-StAteS­mAn StAff

W hen it’s too hot to cook, sal­ads are best when dressed as lightly as the per­son as­sem­bling them.

Heavy, may­on­naise-based dress­ings are about as suf­fo­cat­ing as a win­ter coat on a hot day, but vinai­grettes add fla­vor with­out over­pow­er­ing the crisp, cool let­tuce and raw in­gre­di­ents that can fill up your belly with­out heat­ing up the house.

Like most pro­cessed foods, many com­mer­cially made vinai­grettes and salad dress­ings rely heav­ily on salt and sugar, of­ten in the form of corn syrup, for fla­vor­ing. But with just a few in­gre­di­ents, you can make bet­ter tast­ing and cheaper vinai­grettes at home.

The tra­di­tional vinai­grette ra­tio is three parts oil to one part vine­gar, but how much oil and vine­gar to use de­pends en­tirely on your own taste buds and on what kind of vine­gar you’re us­ing, says Jeff Conarko, co-owner of Con’ Olio Oils & Vine­gars at the Ar­bore­tum.

Three-to-1 works for cut­ting down tart, non-aged vine­gars that are twice as acidic as the more ex­pen­sive aged vine­gars, such as tra­di­tional bal­samic and sherry, Conarko says. When mak­ing vinai­grettes at home, he prefers to use one part olive oil with one part thick, slightly sweet bal­samic vine­gar that has been aged at least 12 years.

You can add all the herbs, gar­lic and le­mon juice you want, but if you’re us­ing ran­cid oil or cheap vine­gar, your salad will suf­fer.

Un­like bal­samic vine­gar, fresh­ness is the key to good olive oil, Conarko says, but be­cause of the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s la­bel­ing rules, it’s hard to know how old even a brand new bot­tle of olive oil is. “We don’t get the good stuff,” Conarko says. “In other coun­tries, af­ter a year, they throw it out or sell it to Amer­ica.” (Ex­pi­ra­tion dates and the words “first press,” “cold press,” “vir­gin” and “ex­tra vir­gin” are also un­reg­u­lated, al­though the agency is cur­rently

con­sid­er­ing en­forc­ing stricter rules.)

An­other plus: When olive oil is fresh, the smoke point is higher (400 de­grees com­pared with 360 de­grees af­ter a year) and the good-foryou oleic acid and an­tiox­i­dants are high.

Bal­samic vine­gar la­bels can be just as con­fus­ing. Un­less the la­bel says “tra­di­tional” or “tradizionale,” it’s likely a knock-off, usu­ally called some­thing along the lines of “bal­samic vine­gar di mo­dena,” which is made with red or white wine vine­gar and caramel col­or­ing. (The mid-grade bal­samic that isn’t as high qual­ity as the tra­di­tional but isn’t swill will be la­beled “condi­mento” or “condi­ment.”)

There’s ge­o­graph­i­cal logic be­hind the clas­sic com­bi­na­tion of bal­samic vine­gar and olive oil. “Any­where you can grow grapes, you can grow olives,” says Conarko, so it’s nat­u­ral that the two pair well to­gether in a dress­ing.

If you’re us­ing red, white, rice or nonaged sherry vine­gar, add a hint of sugar, jam or honey to off­set the acid. You also can use juice from lemons, limes or or­anges in place of or in ad­di­tion to vine­gar. (Tra­di­tional bal­samic vine­gar is nat­u­rally sweet with­out any added sugar and has a glycemic in­dex of zero, which is a wel­come change for di­a­bet­ics who are mon­i­tor­ing their sugar in­take.)

You can sub­sti­tute other oils, in­clud­ing the catch-all “salad oil,” which can be any num­ber of nearly taste­less veg­etable oils, but you’ll have to add fla­vor else­where. Spe­cialty oils such as those made from sesame seeds, pump­kin seeds, av­o­ca­dos, grape seeds and wal­nuts can im­part a unique fla­vor on your vinai­grette, but they have an even shorter shelf life than olive oil, so buy in small quan­ti­ties.

No mat­ter what kind of oil and vine­gar you’re us­ing, the best way to emul­sify the two is with a whisk or in a blender. You can shake the mix­ture in a jar in a pinch, but the dress­ing won’t be as well mixed. In ad­di­tion to adding fla­vor, mus­tard (any kind but the bright yel­low mus­tard meant for hot dogs) or honey can help keep the vine­gar and oil emul­si­fied.

Don’t skip the freshly ground pep­per and salt, which brings down the acid­ity of the vinai­grette and en­hances the fla­vor of the oil. Fresh herbs such as basil, tar­ragon, oregano, mar­jo­ram or thyme al­ways im­part more fla­vor than their dried coun­ter­parts, and the finer they are chopped, the bet­ter dis­trib­uted the fla­vor and less in­tru­sive they are on each bite.

Most oil and vine­gar mix­tures will keep in the fridge for sev­eral weeks, un­less you’ve added gar­lic. (Fresh gar­lic sub­merged in olive oil cre­ates an anaer­o­bic en­vi­ron­ment that can har­bor the bac­te­ria that cause bot­u­lism, so never store vinai­grettes or fla­vored olive oils that con­tain pieces of gar­lic.) Al­low leftover dress­ing to come to room tem­per­a­ture be­fore toss­ing with the salad. You also can mix leftover vinai­grette in a pasta salad, with grilled veg­eta­bles or use as a mari­nade for meat.

One of the best ways to add fla­vor to a vinai­grette is to let in­fused vine­gars and oils do the work for you. Sev­eral lo­cal com­pa­nies sell a va­ri­ety of freshly pressed olive oils and fla­vored tra­di­tional bal­samic vine­gars. (See box on where to buy.) Most of the in­fused bal­samic vine­gars, such as those made with figs, blue­ber­ries, cher­ries, ap­ples and straw­ber­ries, are thick and add just a hint of fra­grant, fruity sweet­ness to vinai­grettes, which means you might just skip any ad­di­tional herbs or sea­son­ings al­to­gether. The in­fused olive oils, un­like the kind you’d make at home that of­ten spoil within a few weeks, are fla­vored sub­tly with in­gre­di­ents like herbs, lemons and even pep­pers when pressed.

Jar­rad Hen­der­son Amer­i­cAn-StAteS­mAn

Ad­die Broyles AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Texas Hill Coun­try Olive Co. of­fers bal­samic vine­gars, many of which are fla­vored.

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