The French have always understood the perfection of a simple green salad with a classic vinaigrette.
Forget bottled dressings with their excessively sugary flavours, emulsifiers and gloopy texture, the unbeatable combination of olive oil, vinegar, garlic and salt and pepper is the best way to highlight the freshness of green leaves.
Use the best-quality ingredients you can. Pure extra virgin olive oil is too strong for vinaigrette and will solidify in the fridge. Chef Nicky Riemer from Melbourne's Union Dining suggests using a 50/50 combination of extra virgin olive oil with either a light olive oil or a nut oil such as walnut, peanut or hazelnut. Grapeseed and avocado oils are also a good alternative. Canola and vegetable oils are best left for cooking only. When combined with other oils, extra virgin olive oil will stay liquid in the fridge, so your vinaigrette will always be ready to use.
As with olive oil use the best quality vinegar you can afford. Choose from cider, sherry, red or white wine vinegars. Balsamic vinegar is best used in small quantities.
Before you start, gather your utensils and ingredients including a chopping board, bowl, knife and whisk. Pre-measure your oil and vinegar and make sure you have a large, clean jar with a lid for storing the finished vinaigrette.
THE PERFECT VINAIGRETTE
Peel a thumb-sized clove of garlic and mince it finely.
Don't buy pre-mixed garlic, you don't know how old it is. If you're unsure about how much garlic flavour you'd like, remember diced garlic will give you a fresher flavour, minced garlic is stronger.
Place your garlic in the bowl and if you're using mustard or juice add them now and mix gently.
Add a little salt and pepper to the garlic.
Be aware the salt and pepper will intensify in flavour over time.
Add 200ml of vinegar to the garlic and salt and pepper and mix gently.
Gently begin whisking-in oil, it doesn't need to be completely emulsified, the classic look of vinaigrette is layers of ingredients in a jar; gentle stirring will bring it together again when you need to use it.
Ladle vinaigrette into a glass jar and store in the fridge. It will last for two weeks.
If you prefer a smaller quantity, halve the liquid ingredients and use half a clove of garlic.
Just before eating put your washed and dried salad leaves in a bowl, ladle in a small amount of vinaigrette and gently toss. Add more salt and pepper if desired. You don't want a big puddle of dressing at the bottom of your bowl, but any leftovers should be scooped up with a piece of bread - a delicious way to finish the salad.
As well as green leaves try vinaigrette on finely sliced cabbage, cooked borlotti or green beans or any combination of fresh leaves and vegetables. Fairfax NZ
- The Marlborough Express