Jam jar dressings

jam jar dressing3

We don’t buy salad dressing at the supermarket anymore.  It’s just too easy to make our own now that I’ve switched to shaking them up in a jam jar.  And the flavor is so much better, not to mention the purity of the ingredients.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve never been adept at creating an emulsion by whisking a thin stream of oil into vinegar in the classic technique for making a vinaigrette.  Far too often the dressing separates before I get it to the table.

So I’ve experimented with all sorts of alternatives, from salad dressing bottles with their own stirrers to jars with markings on the sides for measuring out ingredients.  Nothing works as well as a wide-mouthed jam jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Pour the ingredients into the jar, screw on the lid, shake vigorously and you have a beautifully mixed dressing.  If it’s just family, I’ll put the jar on the table.  For company, I transfer the contents to a cruet, using a small funnel.

A simple vinaigrette is an obvious candidate for the jam jar but you’re not limited to that.  I’ve also adapted a yogurt-based dressing from James Beard and an Asian dressing from Perla Meyers for the jar approach.

For vinaigrette,  I like the standard proportions of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.  Extra virgin olive oil is my first choice.  It should be good, but save the pungent, pricey stuff for use as a condiment.   You can substitute a more neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, if you wish.

The vinegar is critical to the balance of flavor.  My new favorite is Banyuls, a fairly expensive French vinegar made from the sweet wine of Grenache grapes and aged in oak barrels for five-plus years.  It’s mild, nutty and well worth the high price because it goes a long way.  But champagne vinegar or fruit-flavored products such as raspberry vinegar also are very nice.  I avoid harsh red wine vinegars or overpowering balsamic vinegars.

Add a little garlic or shallot, a pinch of salt, some Dijon mustard and freshly ground black pepper and you have a traditional vinaigrette that tastes so much better than anything you can buy. Add minced fresh herbs if you wish.

For the yogurt-based dressing, I’ve drawn on the recipe labeled “Dieter’s Yogurt Dressing,” in my old copy of “The New James Beard,” by James Beard (Knopf, 1981).    I prefer to think of it as a creamy, healthful alternative to ranch-style dressing.  To pump up the flavors, I’ve added apple cider vinegar, a little garlic and a trio of finely minced herbs.  Now its a tasty match for crisp, sturdy lettuces such as romaine, Little Gem, or even iceberg.

The Asian-style dressing is a tribute to all the wonderful Chinese chicken salads I’ve enjoyed over the years.  I love the contrast of a lightly sweet and savory dressing with crunchy greens, shredded chicken, crisp bean threads and nuts.

Finding the right combination of flavors, though, has been a challenge. Some dressing recipes are too sweet.  Others rely too heavily on sesame oil. Finally I decided to riff off a recipe in “Fresh from the Garden” by Perla Meyers (Clarkson Potter, 1996).

This dressing can be made with the ingredients on hand in many kitchens.  I’ve cut back on the sesame oil, introduced rice vinegar, and substituted sunflower oil for the peanut oil in the original.   Feel free to use canola if you don’t have the other oils in your pantry.

Each recipe makes about 1 cup dressing

Mustard vinaigrette
1 medium clove garlic
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mince garlic to a paste with the salt or squeeze through a garlic press.  Add garlic to jar (with salt if using garlic press), vinegar, olive oil and pepper.  Screw lid on tightly and shake until emulsified and creamy.

Yogurt and herb dressing
1 medium clove garlic
¼ teaspoon salt
6-ounce carton of plain yogurt
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely minced chives
1 teaspoon finely minced parsley
1 teaspoon finely minced basil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mince garlic to a paste with the salt or squeeze through a garlic press. Add garlic to jar (with salt if using garlic press), yogurt, vinegar, olive oil, chives, parsley, basil and pepper. Screw lid on tightly and shake until all ingredients are well blended and creamy.

Asian dressing
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 medium clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
6 tablespoons sunflower oil

Combine all ingredients in jar.  Screw lid on tightly and shake until all ingredients are well blended.

Aleta Watson (with inspiration from James Beard and Perla Meyers)

2 thoughts on “Jam jar dressings”

  1. Funny, I’ve mixed my salad dressings in reused jars for years but was sure this was culinary incorrectness. It always worked well, but I was sure somebody with a better palate would be able to tell instantly that I hadn’t poured the oil in a slow, steady stream and whisked. (Somebody like friends of mine known for their food acumen. They go unnamed.)

    I used to find a wonderful pear vinegar. But it seemed to disappear and the pear/champagne vinegars I’ve found for the last few years just don’t compare to my memories of the fruitiness of pear alone. Have you seen a pear vinegar by any chance?

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