The Secret Ingredient to a Perfect Vinaigrette Is … Water

updated Nov 5, 2019
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Let me start by saying that I love salads. They’re refreshing, crunchy, and involve a variety of flavors and textures so that no bite is the same. But I mostly love other people’s salads. I can only think of a handful of times that I’ve actually made a salad that was really dazzling. One of my main issues was that I used to only use store-bought dressings. (I can already feel the culinary gods smiting me for my sins.)

As per usual, the person to knock the nonsense right out of me was the legend herself, Samin Nosrat. Earlier this year, she wrote a piece for the New York Times titled “The Best Green Salad in the World.” Green salad? You know what that means, don’t you? The definition of a green salad is a bowl of leaves. A plate of roughage. A minimalist dish with nary a crouton nor Craisin in sight. Even I would not admit to admiring a green salad. It’s a scandal! It goes without saying that she had my attention. 

As I read, I realized that the greens themselves weren’t the game-changer for Samin — it was the vinaigrette. Jody Williams, co-owner of Via Carota and maker of the aforementioned salad, shared the recipe with Samin, explaining that the secret ingredient was water. Just a tablespoon of warm water makes an overpowering vinaigrette into a gentle dressing that you can practically drink. 

When I tried it myself, I realized that Jody was right. Her vinaigrette has a lot of ingredients that bite. The list includes shallots, sherry vinegar, and two different mustards. Individually, each of these condiments sends a delightful zing through your system. When they work together, the result can be harsh. But just a bit of water mellows out all of the flavors so that each can shine through. 

The tip isn’t limited to this one vinaigrette. Whether you’re making a poppy seed dressing for a salad packed with fruit or a thick green goddess dressing for a plate of crudités, try adding a dash of warm water. As it mellows out the flavors, you just might just find yourself able to turn even a boring bowl of greens into a salad worth remembering.