Remember the “The Mirror Has Two Faces” with Barbara Streisand and a young-but-adorably-awkward Jeff Bridges? There’s a scene where they’re on their first date and the waiter brings salad and Barbara asks for extra dressing. “I don’t particularly like salad” she says, “I just like the extra dressing.” That’s often how I feel about salad dressing.
There are many reasons to love that movie – Jeff Bridges fumbling around beautiful women, the moment Barbara Streisand tells Pierce Brosnan she’s too good for him, young Pierce Brosnan – but at the end of January when resolutions about eating healthy are wearing thin, it’s also wonderful to hear someone admit that salad is in fact, not that awesome without the dressing.
I think my mom may have tried to experiment with oil-and-vinegar dressings at some point in my childhood but to me, dressing came in one of two containers. There was Ken’s Steak House Italian, which was intensely tangy, and there was Hidden Valley Ranch. I used them both indiscriminately; mixed them into rice, drowned my salad in one or the other. Then at some point in high school I discovered homemade dressing. My mom’s friend Darby had her own eponymous balsamic vinaigrette which she used liberally on a salad of greens and mandarin orange slices. For months after that, it was the only dressing I used on anything.
Then when I started dating Jeff, I discovered that his mother also had a signature dressing that made an appearance at dinner every night. She makes it in big batches, stores it in the fridge, and it’s appearance is one of my favorite parts of every meal – a constant at the dinner table.
The thing about both of these dressings is that they take almost no effort and only a handful of ingredients. An acid, an oil, and an emulsifier. Darby uses balsamic, mustard, and a little garlic; Jeff’s mom uses lemons instead of vinegar, and last time I was there she’d started substituting tahini for mustard to bring everything together. It’s been years since I’ve opened a bottle of Ken’s Steak House Italian. At any given time there are couple of jars with a mixture of vinegars and oil with something to bind them – mustard, tahini, egg yolk, mayo – hanging out in the fridge. It’s not that I don’t like salad. It’s just that I’m mostly in it for the dressing.
Here’s the thing about dressing: it’s more about proportions than measurements. If you don’t much dressing, you can scale it down. And if you want more, you can scale it up. It keeps in the fridge for weeks – if the olive oil solidifying in the cold jut leave it out for 15 minutes and give it a shake to recombine it. I prefer a 2:1 proportion of oil to vinegar but if you like a milder dressing go for 3:1 instead.
1 1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbs mustard
1 small clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1/4 tsp kosher salt (otherwise known as a pinch)
Mix all the ingredients together (shaking it is the fastest way I know to do it) and let it sit for half an hour so the garlic flavor can mellow.
Jeff’s Mom’s Dressing
1 1/2 tbs lemon juice
1/4 olive oil
2 tbs tahini
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Shake the ingredients together; it can be used immediately.