There are few things I love more than a really good salad. Since I can't stand most bottled salad dressings (all those fillers, preservatives and low-quality oils), my definition of a really good salad relies on making my own dressing, using high-quality oil and vinegar.
If I'm feeling lazy or rushed for time, I drizzle oil and vinegar (eyeballing the amounts) and some salt and pepper in the bottom of a mixing bowl, add the salad greens, and toss. If I'm feeling French, I'll add a dab of Dijon mustard to the O+V. If the salad's just for me and I'm really in a hurry, I'll put the greens in the bowl I eat my big salads in and drizzle the O+V+S+P on top and sort of toss it.
My go-to oils for salads are a Tuscan olive oil from Costco and walnut and hazelnut oils I usually buy from Big John's PFI. I have flaxseed oil in my fridge but often forget to use it (I need to move it to a more visible place in my fridge).
I have more vinegars than many people, but not nearly as many as some foodie folks. My staples are decent red and white wine vinegars, champagne vinegar, balsamic and white balsamic vinegar, rice and coconut vinegars (I especially like these for making a sort-of slaw with shredded cabbage), a raspberry vinegar for fun, and apple cider vinegar. I also have sherry vinegar that mostly gets used in recipes, and I'll pick up something interesting from time to time, like an orange muscat vinegar I have on hand right now.
Recently, Marx Foods, a local business that specializes in fine foods, was offering samples of a new line of vinegars to Seattle food bloggers to test out. I went to pick them up, and look what I came home with:
It took me longer than I would have liked to test them out (I picked them up right before we went on a little travel binge, which unfortunately comes with a rush of catching-up-after-being-out-of-town activity). One of the vinegars in particular was really special. I didn't think it was possible to be completely smitten with a vinegar, but the instant I opened the small bottle of walnut champagne vinegar and took a whiff, I was in love. Paired with walnut oil, it was a party for the taste buds. I really need to get my greedy paws on more of that stuff!
I've also been loving two pear vinegars (D'Anjou pear vinegar and ginger pear rice vinegar). One of my favorite fall salads is mixed greens with pear, walnuts and blue cheese. I often use apple cider vinegar for the fruitiness, which complements the pear, but I'd never used actually pear vinegar before. It was really wonderful. The walnut champagne vinegar was excellent in this salad, too.
It was also fun to try Cabernet vinegar and Zinfandel vinegar (instead of generic red wine vinegar). I liked the Zin a bit more, as its aroma and flavor were a bit more complex.
Lettuce in a bowl can be pretty plain, but the right ingredients can make a salad really special. Which becomes especially important when you eat a lot of salads! It's worth it to have an oil or two and at least a small selection of vinegars on hand. They don't have to be super expensive, but when you compare their cost to the cost of pre-made dressings, even splurging a little bit doesn't break the bank. As a bonus, when you make your own vinaigrette, you know exactly what you're eating.