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A secret ingredient for better salads.
What’s up in your kitchen? We’re nearing the end of that strange lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas (made even stranger by this past week’s bleak news here in New York—get boosted!) so if you’re anything like me, you might be conserving your kitchen strength for the inevitable and fast approaching end-of-year cooking and baking bonanza. And again, if you’re anything like me, that might mean you’re leaning hard on simple, quick, staple-type meals like fried rice, quesadillas, and big entrée salads.
Today, I want to talk about the latter. Because in the last month I’ve taken my salads from “yum, that’s good” into “damn, that’s over the top delicious“ territory with just one simple ingredient. And when you read what the ingredient is, you won’t be surprised that I’ve been doing the palm to head bonking “duh” motion quite a bit over the past month. The ingredient is one we all already know and love so very much, one we’ve all heard can, when properly deployed, drastically improve nearly any dish, one that’s the clear and undisputed darling favorite of the allium family. Yes, you guessed it, the secret ingredient that’s helped me achieve salad nirvana is…(drumroll please)…a humble clove of fresh garlic.
That’s right, add a single clove of grated garlic to ANY salad dressing and you’ll be shocked at the improvement it makes.
While this is hardly a revelation, it’s the focus of today’s newsletter because I’m worried that you, dear reader, might be making the same mistake that I’ve been making for the majority of my cooking career: expending effort composing a gorgeous salad, then making a dressing that skips the grated garlic because it seemed like a somewhat laborious and seemingly frivolous step; then ultimately missing out on the vast improvement it makes to any salad dressing and the ensuing salad you pour it on.
But I’m here to tell you that taking the time to grate or finely mince a clove of garlic for your dressing is well worth it for two reasons. First, if you’re a garlic girl, you’ll be unsurprised to read that it improves the flavor of your dressing. That’s obvious. Second and much more unexpectedly if you’re not a food scientist, garlic also vastly improves the texture of your dressing! Because when it’s broken down (via grating or finely mincing) garlic actually becomes an emulsifier, which is the technical term for the ingredient that makes the oil and acid in a typical salad dressing hold together in creamy, delicious harmony. That’s right, like mustard, honey, and mayo, freshly grated garlic will lend a gorgeous, velvety texture to your dressing. Who doesn’t want that?
So, here’s how I make a garlic-infused salad dressing:
I like my dressing very acidic, so to a jar with a tight-fitting lid (I typically use a mason jar or recycled jam jar) I add equal parts olive oil and white or red vinegar. Usually about 1/4 cup each so I’ll have enough dressing for a few servings of salad. If you’d prefer something a little more mild, go for a ratio that’s closer to 2 parts acid to 3 parts oil.
Then, I grate my raw garlic garlic clove using my trusty microplane. It’s worth it to go for the fresh clove over the jarred stuff, IMO. Pre-packaged garlic just tastes off to me. And if I’m feeling too lazy to pull out and clean my microplane, I mince the garlic extremely finely with my chef’s knife which, ultimately, does take as much time and much more effort than just using my microplane, so I’m not sure why I even go through the trouble. I love my microplane! Just use a microplane if you have one. Then I add the grated garlic to the jar with my oil and vinegar.
To the jar, I’ll usually also add a heaping tablespoon dijon mustard (another emulsifier), a large pinch of salt, and sometimes a few cracks of pepper, a sprinkle of oregano, or whatever other dried herbs/spices suit my fancy and my salad du jour.
Finally, I seal the lid of the jar tightly, give the contents a good and hearty shake, and that’s it! I’ve got a perfectly creamy, oh-so-flavorful dressing to pour over salads for the next week-or-so. And you can too!
This is my go-to formulation, but in most cases, you can simply plop a single clove of grated garlic into whatever dressing recipe you’re working with and it’ll be a fabulous addition—I’ve tried this with a balsamic vinaigrette, sesame mustard dressing, and tahini yogurt dressing and all have been absolutely wonderful.
Okay, I think that about covers this week’s tip. I know it may seem basic, but we love a quick, easy step to elevate our day-to-day dining experiences, do we not? I hope you give this one a try and I hope you are staying safe and I hope you are keeping yourself as sane as possible. This’ll be the last Monday newsletter of 2021, but if you’re a free subscriber, you’ll get a little sneak peek at the Friday newsletter next week, so stay tuned. Until then, have a lovely, well-fed rest of 2021 ahead x.
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,
P.S. Don’t forget, Abigail and I have virtual meal prep classes starting in January 2022, so if you’re looking for a way to kick start a meal prep habit in the new year, want to participate in or gift an exciting virtual activity, or simply want to cook and eat a lot of great food with a fun group of people, you can sign up here (and a reminder, the class pack gets you a MAJOR 30% discount and all classes are recorded so can fit in with any schedule.)
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