Sunday, February 3, 2013

Something From Nothing #9: French Vinaigrette and That Bright Orange Stuff You Ate as a Kid

When I started my first "real" job many moons ago, the best part of the day next to happy hour was lunch.  I had a couple of favorite restaurants close by the office and thanks to my boss's generous expense account, our small department got to visit one of them almost every day.

One of these favorites was southwest Houston's location of  Houlihan's.  This was my favorite place for a bowl of French Onion Soup with tons of cheese melted over a big crusty crouton, floating in a dark salty broth.  Since I was going French, I thought it only right that I pair my favorite soup with their house salad which was served drenched in a thick sweet tomatoey "French" dressing sprinkled liberally with tangy bleu cheese crumbles.   I'd like to say that my palate has matured since then, but if I could find a Houlihan's around anywhere, you bet I'd be there eating soup and salad, with or without an expense account. 

A couple of years later when I found myself visiting Europe for the first time, I was really quite surprised to discover that the French dressing that I had learned to love and had been eating for years didn't even resemble real French salad dressing.  Real French salad dressing is actually more of what we Americans call Italian dressing without all the herbs and Romano cheese that Kraft likes to put in there.  It was different, but I grew to love it, especially on a continent where you count yourself lucky if you are offered any dressing for your salad at all.

Back at home in the US, I had a refrigerator door lined with bottles of store bought dressings.  I once thought making good salad dressings to be rocket science and would never have dreamed of making them on my own.  When I finally got around to giving homemade a try, I loved it and there's no way I would ever go back to eating store bought again.  If you've never made your own dressing you are going to be amazed at how easy and delicious they can be, and I'm pleased to give you a couple of recipes to start with.

As usual this first recipe is my own rendition of a simple old favorite.  There are many recipes out there for this traditional French vinaigrette that are usually made without garlic, and even though I think it just rounds out the flavor perfectly, feel free to leave it out if you prefer.  Even though there are more ingredients than I usually like to list for my Something From Nothing recipes, I think you'll find that you have most of them in your pantry and if not, they are essential basics that you probably need to go out and buy anyway.

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 medium size garlic clove, crushed (optional, but I love it)
1 tablespoon very thinly sliced green onion tops (or a tablespoon of very finely minced shallot or onion)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil (vegetable oil can be used if you prefer)
Black pepper to taste
5 cups of salad greens



Pour the salt in the middle of a large bowl.  This will not only season the vinaigrette, but it will also help give the garlic some traction if the bowl is slippery.

Place a clove of garlic on top of the salt with the rounded side facing up.  Hold securely near the root end with a fork.  Holding another fork in the opposite hand, place your thumb in the curved part of the fork.  Firmly yet gently shave the garlic from the end a little bit at a time until it is crushed.  Using the back of the fork, crush any large bits if any against the salt.



Bruise the green onions on top of the salt and garlic with the back of a fork.



Whisk in the mustard and vinegar.



Slowly add the oil in a thin stream while whisking vigorously until it is incorporated.

Season with a healthy grinding of black pepper.



Place salad greens on top and toss immediately, or stop at this point, cover and set aside for up to an hour or so without tossing to serve later.

Make this recipe your own at this point by adjusting the oil or vinegar to make it milder or stronger.  You can also add herbs and cheese to the dressing to change it up a bit.  This dressing can be easily doubled or tripled and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.  When I double the recipe I don't quite double the onions and garlic to avoid an overpowering flavor.

And now from the sublime to the ridiculous . . .

I toyed with the idea of leaving this second recipe off, but after talking about how good it is I felt compelled to include it.  It has many of the same ingredients as the traditional French dressing, but with just a couple of added ingredients like sugar and, well, tomato soup.  Yep, you read right.  I told you it is ridiculous. 


American Style Tomato French Dressing

I know it sounds kind of weird, but you owe it to yourself to try this at least once.  I normally don't like to use canned soup for anything, but I must admit I usually have a can of tomato in the pantry just in case we have a grilled cheese emergency, so why not.  For the old time Houlihan's experience, add some bleu cheese crumbles, thinly sliced red onion and, dare I say it in yet another post, some real bacon crumbles.

1 - 10 ounce can condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 medium size onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar (hey, I didn't say it was healthy)
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
Black pepper to taste

Throw everything in the bowl of a blender.  Blend for 5 - 10 seconds or so, or until onion is pureed and everything is combined.  Serve chilled.

Makes about 2 cups

I really wish I knew who first made salad dressing out of soup because I'd really like to give you credit for stretching your imagination in such a fun way, so whoever you are, thanks for the recipe.




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