Vinaigrettes add flavor to variety of unexpected foods

The oft-used salad dressing is delicious on a variety of foods.|

Most of us think of vinaigrette as a mixture of oil, acid and aromatics, mixed together and drizzled over salad. In its simplest form, a vinaigrette simply can be salt, olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar, with ingredients added in this order. It takes just a minute or two to prepare and makes for as delicious a green salad as you’ll find, if you use good greens.

A vinaigrette also can refer to a pan sauce, such as for fish fillets sautéed in butter with a generous spritz of citrus or a grilled steak topped with butter and lemon juice.

If I have an opportunity to revise my book “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings” (Harvard Common Press, 2014, $16.95), I’ll change the title to “Vinaigrettes on Everything.” When we shift away from salads alone, possibilities expand deliciously.

A warm vinaigrette is wonderful on an omelet, grilled polenta triangles, roasted chicken, pan-fried quail, oven-roasted vegetables, pasta, rice and potatoes. A few vinaigrettes are even delightful as dessert sauces, a topic I’ll explore in this column another time. For now, the focus is on savory vinaigrettes.

There really is no need to buy a commercial vinaigrette or other salad dressing. By definition, they must be shelf-stable, which involves adding preservatives and not using certain fresh ingredients. It’s always cheaper to make a dressing yourself. It is also better for the environment, as there’s no bottle to recycle.

This warm salad makes a great light dinner in cold weather.

Sweet and Savory Potatoes with Lime Vinaigrette

Makes 3 to 4 Servings

3 small-medium sweet potatoes, rinsed and dried

3 small-medium potatoes, rinsed and dried

4 cups (about 3 ounces) young salad greens

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 or 2 limes

Black pepper in a mill

Kosher salt

3 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves or Italian parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Use a fork to pierce each potato in several places. Set them on a rack over a baking sheet, place on the center rack of the oven and bake until tender, from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on size.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool slightly.

Put the salad greens on a serving platter, sprinkle with a little salt and use your fingers to toss gently.

Cut each potato into lengthwise wedges and arrange them on the salad greens. Drizzle with the olive oil and squeeze lime juice over everything. Season with a little salt and several very generous turns of black pepper. Scatter the cilantro or parsley on top and enjoy right away.

You’ll find the best cauliflower at farmers markets. If you like, you can use half cauliflower and half broccoli or even all broccoli in this dish. Romanesco broccoli is both delicious and beautiful and makes a great addition to this warm main-course salad.

Warm Cauliflower Salad with Olives, Peppercorns and Feta

Makes 6 to 8 Servings

Kosher salt

6 cups cauliflower florets, see Note below

¾ cup green olives, such as Picholine, pitted and halved

5 scallions, trimmed and very thinly sliced

8 ounces feta, crumbled

1 tablespoon brined green peppercorns, drained

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

Black pepper in a mill

½ cup chopped Italian parsley

Fill a medium saucepan three-quarters full with water, add a tablespoon of kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the cauliflower and cook until it is just tender, about 5 to 7 minutes depending on the size of the florets.

Drain well and tip into a wide, shallow serving bowl; let cool slightly.

Add the olives, scallions, feta, peppercorns and olive oil to the cauliflower and toss gently. Add the lemon and toss again. Taste and correct for salt and acid, adding a bit more olive oil if it is too tart.

Add the parsley and toss again. Let rest, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy right away. Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container; bring to room temperature before serving.

Note: If available, use a mix of white, orange and purple cauliflower.

I often use this dressing to marinate cooked potatoes before adding other ingredients for potato salad. Even if the salad has a mayonnaise dressing, using this first makes the salad blossom. Other suggested uses follow the main recipe.

Caraway Vinaigrette

Makes about ¾ cup

1 small shallot, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

¾ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and crushed

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons minced fresh Italian parsley

1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 teaspoon celery seeds

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, mix together the shallot, garlic and caraway seeds. Pour the vinegar and lemon juice over the mixture and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Mix in the parsley, oregano, thyme and celery seeds. Season with salt and several turns of black pepper and whisk in the olive oil.

Taste and correct for salt, pepper, oil and acid, if needed. Use right away, or refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days.

Suggested Uses:

Warm Potato Salad

Russian Egg Potato Salad

Roasted Carrots

Roasted beet wedges over fresh salad greens

Shredded, grilled or steamed cabbage

Grilled Cheddar cheese sandwich on rye

This dressing is delicious over poached eggs, either neat or atop greens such as frisée. It is also excellent on roasted asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, poached leeks, fried potatoes, roasted vegetables and omelets.

Warm Shallot Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup

⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 shallots, minced

3 pancetta slices, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons best-quality white wine vinegar, such as Banyuls

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste

Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley or snipped fresh chives

Pour a little of the olive oil into a sauté pan set over medium-low heat, add the shallots and pancetta and sauté gently until the shallots are soft and fragrant but not browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1½ minutes more. Season with salt.

Pour in the vinegar and lemon juice and simmer for 1 minute. Pour in the remaining olive oil and heat through. Add several turns of black pepper and remove from the heat.

Taste and correct for salt and acid if needed. (Use lemon juice to adjust acid balance.) Stir in the parsley and use right away. This dressing is best served the day it is made, but it can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat gently just before using.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author o 24 books to date, including “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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