"How do you make that dressing?" I didn't give it much thought until my son asked. It seems simple — and it is — but it hadn't dawned on me to teach my kids to make a basic vinaigrette. Maybe because I never knew how until I met my French mother-in-law.
In my world, dressing came in a bottle from the grocery store. But doing it yourself is easier than driving to the store — and a lot cheaper. It had been years since I measured anything, so the next time I made it, I paid attention, wrote down the recipe, and put it on the fridge. Before I learned to make it, I started with a great cheat.
When I first tried my mother-in-law's vinaigrette, I figured it was a secret French recipe. It took me a while to get up the nerve to ask, because I figured she wouldn't share. I shouldn't have waited. She laughed at my question.
"Don't you know it? You get this at the grocery store." She held up her cruet, the one with etched vines on the side. "I forget the name. Let me see ... "
She rummaged through the cabinet and produced a packet of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix. And that lovely cruet? The one I thought was French, maybe a family heirloom? You can get it at the Piggly Wiggly for, like, four dollars. And it comes with the seasoning packet. You've seen that cruet a thousand times. Every household you visited as a child had one. No wonder it looked so familiar.
I don't always buy the seasoning. These days, I usually improvise, so I made notes for my son and put them on the side of the fridge. The original recipe calls for vinegar, water, the seasoning packet, and oil. My mother-in-law dresses it up a bit, and so do I.
Salad Dressing Basics
- Balsamic to "V." (The cruet has three lines on the side, each labeled with a letter. You really can't mess up this dressing.)
- Water to "W."
- Juice of one lemon. (My mother-in-law recommended the lemon juice at some point, and I like it.)
- Pinch of salt. Dash of pepper. Heaping teaspoon Italian seasoning. Unless you're using the packet, then you can skip these three things.
- Small dollop Dijon mustard. (Another secret from my mother-in-law.)
- Add oil to "O." (You can add olive oil or something less flavorful, like grapeseed oil.)
- Shake gently to combine.
The whole process takes two minutes or less. I'll definitely be sending my children to their first apartments with a Good Seasons Italian dressing kit.
As for the salad itself, it can be as simple as a bowl of greens, or they can add a few extras. They've watched me add slivers of radish, chopped cucumbers, nuts, Parmesan, halved grape tomatoes, blueberries, summer squash matchsticks, leftover chopped and roasted asparagus, or whatever else is in the fridge. But as long as they get a handful of greens, I'm happy. The more ingredients, the better — a salad lesson is a great time to teach safe knife skills, too.
I also taught them the other thing I learned from my mother-in-law: A little dressing goes a long way. You can always add more, but it should be tossed with the greens before you decide. The French have a brilliant way of adding just enough dressing; the vegetables stay crisp, and there is just enough extra flavor.
I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised that my fourteen-year-old noticed the salad dressing, and cared enough to want to make it. It seems like a good sign that he'll eat vegetables in the future, even away from my micro-managing ways. Fingers crossed!
What's your family's favorite basic salad?
10 Kitchen Lessons for My Teenage Kid
I've decided to be a little more methodical about teaching my sons to cook. So this week and next I'm counting down the ten essentials I think my 14-year-old absolutely has to master before he flies the nest.