I learned a looooong time ago to order my salad dressing on the side when I go out to eat in an American restaurant. Sometimes even the higher end restaurants still put way too much dressing on salads for me. I love a perfectly dressed salad, not one that is literally swimming in a pool of dressing. I want my lettuce and any other vegetables to be the star of the show, adorned by the simple perfect accessory of just the right amount of salad dressing.
European salad dressings are so much less complicated than in America. When you order a salad in a restaurant in France or Italy, the server doesn’t ask you “What kind of dressing would you like?” Your salad arrives with what the restaurant makes, and it’s usually a simple vinaigrette.
This is an area where I think the French have got it down pat. They know how to get a little naked with their salads. With how much dressing they put on their salads, of course.
While in the Provence village of Lourmarin, I snagged a prime sidewalk table at Café Gaby for lunch and had an impeccably dressed salad topped with olive tapenade toasts. Right at the intersection of two busy streets in the middle of the village, it is a perfect spot to sit, eat, relax and people watch. And yes, I had an order of les frites too. Because I could. And because I was having a salad.
Salad dressing is one of those things that is SO incredibly easy to make, and SO good that you’ll wonder what took you so long to make your own. Plus, you know exactly what’s in it — there are no weird ingredients like xanthan gum, carrageenan or preservatives. When I’m going to eat a great salad I don’t want to muck it up with a bunch of words I can’t pronounce.
Here’s a link to a simple vinaigrette by cookbook author David Lebovitz on his blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris. Plus, his anecdotes about his life in Paris and his recipes are always fun to read.
And the really great thing is that once you know how to make a basic vinaigrette, you can change it up any way you like. Swap out the sherry or red wine vinegar for white. A favorite of mine is apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil (of course), adding maple syrup for a little sweetness, plus a little Dijon mustard (this one is really good on a kale salad with sliced apples and walnuts). Add in some bleu cheese crumbles, or feta or Parmesan cheese. Chop or tear some fresh herbs to really bring it alive — basil, parsley, dill or tarragon are all fantastic with a fresh vinaigrette.
Another perfect lunch one day in Avignon, a wedge of hot quiche Lorraine and a wonderful salad topped with green beans, all perfectly dressed up with a simple vinaigrette.
Over the weekend I made a fresh, bright salad with slices of honeydew melon and Persian cucumbers (baby cucumbers would work well too), feta cheese, fresh mint, a few crispy prosciutto crumbles (crumbled bacon can substitute) and pistachios. Lightly dress with a vinaigrette of 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey and 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk all together and add salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle over your salad. I said drizzle.
It was the perfect cold start to a summer dinner and full of flavor, punctuated by that tantalizing combination of sweet and salty. I have eaten this as a main dish for lunch just by adding garbanzo beans. If you like a little heat, you can add some finely minced jalapeño pepper to the dressing.
So I dare you to get a little naked next time with your salad. Once you see how good it is, you’ll never go back. If you have a favorite simple dressing you love, leave a comment and tell us about it!