Confession time: I used to scoff a bit at people who exclusively make their own salad dressing, especially those who insist that their homemade versions are so easy and soooo much better than the store-bought variety. Since I am more of a follow-the-recipe-and-measure-precisely type of cook, I figured it was a LOT easier to just buy dressings from the store — rather than research and find a recipe, procure the ingredients and execute the recipe — especially since the pre-made dressings taste just as good. Dan definitely disagrees with me on the latter point, and his (more discerning) palate can almost always detect an artificial quality in store-bought salad dressings. Considering the fact that many dressings have a (quite literal) shelf-life of many months — if not years — they likely contain a lot of preservatives that cause the artificial taste and aren’t the best things to be putting in our bodies. I’ll probably never get to the point of being a “glug of olive oil, splash of vinegar, dashes of spices, bit of this and bit of that” kind of dressing-maker, but I’m slowly coming around to using homemade vinaigrettes more often and we’ve tried a couple of recipes that are both easy and delicious. Don’t get me wrong — I still believe that a lot of store-bought salad dressings are great (we almost always have a bottle of this French vinaigrette in our fridge), but sometimes a homemade dressing really does make certain salads taste better. This is one of those times, and one of those salads.
Start by making the vinaigrette. We used this recipe, cut in half. Heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add about a teaspoon of minced garlic (2-3 cloves) to the oil and saute until the garlic is golden in color — about a minute. Be careful not to get the oil too hot or burn the garlic (which I was close to doing in the above picture), or it will become bitter and you’ll have to start over with fresh garlic (trust me, I know of which I speak.)
Transfer the garlic to a blender (we used our handy immersion blender), then add 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (gorgonzola also works well and is a bit more mild), 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (Cholula or Tabasco), 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Blend the ingredients until well-combined, then stir in 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh basil. Refrigerate the dressing until you’re ready to use it.
This salad recipe calls for butter lettuce (also known as boston or bibb lettuce), which we sometimes prefer over our usual green leaf lettuce because it is more delicate and has a slightly sweet, buttery flavor. And it’s “aliiiiiive,” with root system still attached. Cut that part off, wash the leaves and tear them into small pieces.
Am I seriously providing instructions (with accompanying picture tutorial, no less) on how to make a salad? Apparently so.
Chop 3-4 slices of cooked bacon into tiny pieces.
Add the bacon to the lettuce in a large bowl, along with about 1/4 cup of dried cherries and a little more crumbled blue cheese. Slowly add the vinaigrette and toss until the salad is dressed to your liking.
We served the salad with fried game hen and potatoes. As silly as it may feel to do an entire post on a salad, the flavor combinations in this one are worth writing about and remembering: buttery lettuce with salty bacon and sweet/tart cherries pairs extremely well with the sharp blue cheese, rich olive oil, spicy pepper and fresh basil flavors of the vinaigrette. Good enough to turn this girl into a homemade dressing snob after all.