This simple vinaigrette has earned a permanent spot in my kitchen.
Ready in minutes, it keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks. It's also highly adaptable and can be tailored to dress whatever tossup of ingredients I happen to have on hand — cooked grains and dried beans, rotisserie chicken, roasted vegetables. And it tastes better than commercial salad dressings, which are chock-full of preservatives and stabilizers.
The basic vinaigrette is also a handy sauce, one to use in place of oil, salt and pepper when seasoning a variety of dishes. I like to drizzle it over grilled fish, chicken or sausage; use it to start a pasta sauce or to marinate meat, poultry and seafood. Whisked into yogurt or mayonnaise, it's a dip for chips and raw vegetables, a spread for sandwiches and the secret sauce for tuna, egg and chicken salads.
Once the base is whisked together, I just season the portion I need, not the entire jar. That way, the seasoned dressing tastes fresh and I'll still have more base left to make something else.
When it's time to season a vinaigrette, fresh herbs, spices, hot sauce, grated cheese, plain yogurt, cream or sour cream all are fair game. But tasting is key. If it's too sweet, add a pinch of salt, capers, soy or Worcestershire sauce. If it's too salty, temper it with a little sugar, honey or maple syrup. If it's too tangy or tart, add a little more oil.
You might also replace the oil with buttermilk, vegetable purées or nut milks. When tasting the dressing, don't just lick it with your finger. Dip a bit of the ingredients into the dressing: You want it to complement the ingredients, not overwhelm. It's all about balance, always.
Wheat Berry Salad With Olives and Lemony Yogurt Dressing
Wheat berries are a versatile and nutritious whole grain with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor and delightfully chewy texture. They can take a bit of time to cook, so make a big batch in the beginning of the week to have on hand for salads, soups and breakfasts; they'll keep for up to a week in a covered container in the refrigerator. Feel free to vary the wheat berries with any cooked grain — farro, barley, quinoa and brown rice all work well. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/2 c. wheat berries (see Note)
• Generous pinch salt
• 8 to 12 c. mixed lettuces or arugula, rinsed and dried
• 1 c. mixed, pitted olives
• 1 small cucumber, sliced
• 1/4 c. Basic Vinaigrette, see recipe
• 1 small shallot, chopped
• 1 to 2 tbsp. plain whole milk yogurt, to taste
Sort through the wheat berries, discarding any stones. Rinse well under cool running water and place in a large, heavy saucepan. Add enough water to cover the top of the wheat berries by about 4 inches. Add the salt. Set over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently until the wheat berries are tender, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Drain.
In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, olives and cucumbers, then toss in the wheat berries. In a small bowl, whisk together the Basic Vinaigrette with the chopped shallot and yogurt to taste. Serve on the side or toss enough of the dressing into the salad to lightly coat.
Makes 2 cups.
Store this in the refrigerator to have on hand, ready to season with the suggested additions below. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/3 cup lemon juice or vinegar
• 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
• 2/3 c. vegetable or olive oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Put the lemon juice or vinegar and mustard into a medium bowl and whisk in the vegetable oil to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Store vinaigrette base in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator. It will keep several weeks.
To flavor vinaigrette: Add one of the following ingredients to 1/4 cup of the prepared vinaigrette: 1 small shallot, peeled and chopped; 1 clove garlic, crushed; 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs; 1 tablespoon chopped capers; 1 tablespoon chopped olives; 2 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt; 1 tablespoon tomato paste; or 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.