How to Get the Best Dressed Salads This Summer

You wouldn’t dream of going out to a social event without getting dressed up. Who doesn’t want to be presented looking their best for a big occasion? Donning a beautiful outfit and getting the accessories right, whatever the outing or engagement, makes you look great and feel absolutely fantastic. Dressing a salad has much the same effect in presentation and taste terms. 

You can either drag your salad bowl down into the dreary dirt with a nondescript ready made dressing you bought from a big chain supermarket. Look on the labels before you buy, because you may see some preservatives and additives there that make you wonder what on earth they bring to the salad party. Will they enhance those tastes, lift those textures and give that salad bowl the pzazz it deserves? We think you’ll find the answer is no.

Add to this the fact that it takes roughly two minutes to make a straightforward fresh vinaigrette salad dressing that will work on most leafy or chunky salads. So quick you will wonder why you never tried it before. When you’ve mastered the art of vinaigrette making, you can add to that basic recipe with a few ideas of your own. The world is your salad tosser, as you work your way through fresh herbs, citrus juice and zest, chilli, garlic, soy, ginger and many other ingredients, to create a designer wardrobe of dressings that will put your salads on the gourmet catwalk this summer.

BASIC VINAIGRETTE

What you need for this is good oil (extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed virgin Irish rapeseed oil – see basic ingredients and producers below), white wine or Irish cider vinegar, some Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. That’s it. The basic rule of thumb is four parts oil to one part vinegar. So you can make one quantity of it or double or triple the recipe dead easy, once you know this ratio.

  • Place 4 tbsp oil in a jam jar.
  • Add 1 tsp of Dijon mustard and 1 tbsp of cider or white wine vinegar.
  • Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Put the lid on the jar.
  • Shake to combine.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

And that’s all there is to it. Some people also add a tiny pinch of sugar but this is entirely down to personal taste. This dressing can be kept in the fridge or a cool larder for a few days. Just give it a good shake before you use it. 

GET FANCY WITH YOUR DRESSING STYLES

So now for the fun stuff. Add to your basic dressing with different ingredients and give it a different personality each time. Think of this as a bit like choosing the right accessories to brighten an outfit. Do the red shoes go with the blue dress? Is that emerald green broach right for the yellow scarf? Can you really put a striped tie with a spotted shirt? You get the gist…

Here are some ideas for what ingredients work with what salads.

Lemon juice and zest – Use a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice with finely grated lemon zest instead of the vinegar for a simple Lemon Vinaigrette. Perfect for light leafy salads with mixed lettuces. Or drizzle this over cold grilled mackerel or sardines.

Lime juice and zest – as above, but you may need a little dash of vinegar as well because lime juice tends to be not quite as sharp as lemon juice, depending on variety and ripeness. Use a lime juice and zest vinaigrette for dressing or a salsa with finely chopped tomatoes, green pepper and avocado. 

Fresh chilli. Will add bite to the basic vinaigrette recipe. Use it to spike up a tomato salad or salsa or drizzle it over a warm chicken noodle salad.

Fresh Ginger. Finely grate and use this in the basic vinaigrette for light oriental salads with vegetables or prawns. Combine it with the chilli for more of a smack.

Sweet chilli sauce. Adds two components to the basic recipe. Sweetness helps round the dressing and the chilli gives that spike of heat. Really good for dressing a warm grilled prawn salad tossed with slivers of fresh pineapple, sliced fresh radishes, spring onions, and rocket or watercress leaves. Yum.

Soy sauce. A good dash of soy adds dark colour and salty taste to your basic dressing. Good for oriental salads with lefotver rice or noodles tossed with strippy veggies. Or use it for a seasonal summer prawn or fresh squid salad. Beware when using soy because you probably won’t need salt, or at least as much salt, in your seasoning. You can also combine soy in your dressing with fresh chilli and ginger for a serious flavour hit.

Honey. Gives a lovely sweet warmth to a basic vinaigrette. Really good with salads that contain an element of fruit – say mixed peppery leaves tossed with a few seasonal Irish strawberries or chunks of chargrilled peach. 

Basil. Basil vinaigrette works with any salad containing tomatoes, and also works with cold pasta salads with just veggies or veggies and fish or shellfish. Same advice as above about making it fresh each time to get the basil flavours at their best.

Chives. Finely snipped chives not only look great in a salad dressing, but they add a subtle oniony taste too. You can drizzle a Chive Vinaigrette over any salad and it will come to life. Go one step further and toss a few chive flowers into the mix also. Looks fab. Just one little note though.

When you use fresh herbs your salad dressing won’t last. Fresh herbs wilt in the acidity of the dressing, so it needs to be made fresh each time.

BASIC DRESSING INGREDIENTS

Oil and vinegar are the most important components of a classic vinaigrette and its derivatives above. A few Good Food Ireland producers specialise in making these two special ingredients. You will also need salt for seasoning and we’ve got that covered too.

OIL

Donegal Rapeseed Oil is made by a co-operative of farmers in the Donegal region. It’s a cold pressed virgin oil made from homegrown Irish rapeseed.

‘Cold pressed’ means it is not extracted by the use of heat, and ‘virgin’ means seeds get just one pressing to obtain the purest, most nutritionally balanced and flavoursome oil. A beautiful richly coloured oil which gives great taste to salad dressings. 

Also really good nutritionally, with lots of Omega 6 and Omega 3 for for heart health and maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels, Vitamin E for good skin and protecting cells from damage. The range includes a classic oil plus oils infused with Chilli, Garlic or Lemon. The Gold Range of three Rapeseed Oils are infused with Porcini, Curry or Fennel. Three fab oils to add a totally different slant to your vinaigrette and make great basting oils too. 

Harnett's Oils are produced by Jane Harnett at the family farm on the Waringstown Estate in Co. Down. Jane’s family have been growing GM free seeds for oils here since 1656. A few years ago, Jane decided to add an artisan string to the family’s bow, when she began cold pressing rapeseed for Harnett's Rapeseed Oil, a small-batch culinary oil perfect for salad dressings. She now also makes Cold Pressed Hemp Seed Oil. Both oils are extremely good for health, with Hemp Seed Oil highly recommended by heart specialists for its high contents of Omega 3, 6 & 9 fatty acids which help control cholesterol levels and promote heart health.

Hence the graphic design of a beautiful heart on the labels of Harnett’s Hemp and Rapeseed Oil. The Rapeseed Oil is perfect for salad dressings, making a fantastic replacement for olive oil in the quality and taste stakes. Hemp Oil is a little more of an acquired taste, distinctly earthy and intensely nutty, which adds a totally different dimension to your dressings. For convenience, Jane also produces ready made salad dressings which contain her wonderful oil – unlike the large commercial productions of dressings, these are made in small batches, using only the best and purest ingredients. 

CIDER VINEGAR

This is the vinegar made from the fermentation and maturation of the juice of fresh apples. The Apple Farm in Cahir, Co. Tippperary, produces a range of cider vinegars for your salad dressings. The initial process of making involves creating a cider with around 6% alcohol. Then a vinegar ‘mother’ or ‘culture’ is added, which converts the alcohol to acid. It takes a little while to complete the process, but the end produce is a delicious natural cider vinegar full of the flavour of Irish apples. You can buy this at the shop on The Apple Farm or in selected good food shops like Urru Culinary Store, in Bandon, West Cork. 

At Highbank Organic Orchards, Rod and Julie Calder-Potts, produce a superb Organic Cider Vinegar Mother from the organic apples grown on the their farm in Kilkenny. This is a raw unpasteurised vinegar complete with the ‘mother’ which has helped it ferment into delicious smooth cider vinegar. Made from Single Estate Heritage Cider Apples. A serious vinegar to have on your shelves! High bank also produces an Organic Balsamic Vinegar Mother. This is a vinegar which takes on the richy syrupy character of the more familiar Italian balsamic vinegars more familiar in shops. Highbank Organic Balsamic Cider Vinegar with Wild Mother is dark in colour and intense in taste. You can use this in your basic recipe or simply drizzle it with Irish rapeseed oil over some sliced ripe tomatoes and dress with fresh basil. Simplicity itself. 

SALT

Salt is a massive part of your seasoning in a salad dressing. Oriel Sea Salt is made in Co. Louth, from harvested sea water at Port Oriel close to magnificent Clogher Head. This natural sea salt is full of taste from these mineral rich waters. It’s the only non-oxidised mineral sea salt on the planet. That’s some claim to fame! Oriel Sea Salt comes in natural Mineral Sea Salt or Kiln Dried Mineral Sea Salt, which is a dryer product that runs more freely. Or for a touch of extra class, try the Oriel Teeling Whiskey Smoked Sea Salt which adds a subtle whiskey flavour to your seasoning. 

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