Ripe, juicy tomatoes, check. Crisp, vibrant lettuce, check. Thinly sliced mushrooms, cucumbers, and bell peppers, check. You’ve got all the components of a perfect salad ready for a beautiful glass bowl. Now you just need a great vinaigrette.
Vinaigrettes, which in their simplest guise consist of an oil and vinegar combination, can serve not only as a salad dressing but also as a marinade or a light sauce for grilled meats, poultry, and seafood. For a heart-healthy dressing, use monunsaturated extra-virgin olive oil and a vinegar of your choice, then add garlic, along with fresh or dried herbs, for flavor.
If you keep your pantry and fridge stocked with the staples you need for a vinaigrette, you can make one in just a few minutes. Have on hand extra-virgin olive oil, a choice of vinegars, such as red and white balsamic, white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, and rice wine vinegar, as well as Dijon mustard, shallots or onion, lemons and limes (which can be juiced and used instead of or with your vinegar), and garlic. Fresh or dried herbs such as chives, basil, thyme, oregano, and French tarragon are all good optional dressing ingredients. Grow your own herbs on a sunny windowsill or patio if you are so inclined. Adding spices like cumin, paprika, or cayenne can also jazz up a dressing.
If you’ve got a small bowl or cup and a whisk, simply combine together all your ingredients except the oil, salt, and pepper. Then, whisking constantly, add the oil in a slow steady stream. Season to taste with the salt (try sea salt or Hawaiian salt) and pepper. Alternatively, you can make the dressing in a blender or a mini food processor. If you don’t plan to use the dressing immediately, store the vinaigrette in the refrigerator in a small plastic container or in a glass jar with a lid, and be sure to shake to recombine before using.
Always add dressing to the salad at the last possible minute, so your greens will stay crisp. Or better yet, allow guests to add their own (on the South Beach Diet we recommend no more than 2 tablespoons as a serving).
A trio of vinaigrettes
Here are three easy vinaigrette options that can be enjoyed on any Phase of the South Beach Diet. Each recipe makes between 1/2 and 3/4 cup of dressing (about 8 to 12 tablespoons) so you can enjoy some on the day you make it and have enough left over to use during the week.
Balsamic Vinaigrette: Combine 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 small minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon minced shallot or red onion, and a pinch of dried thyme. Whisk in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Dijon Vinaigrette: Whisk together 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons minced red onion, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, and 1 minced garlic clove. Slowly whisk in 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Champagne Vinaigrette: Whisk together 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar and 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, then whisk in 1 tablespoon warm water and 1 small minced shallot. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Buying a prepared vinaigrette
If you prefer to buy a prepared vinaigrette, read the label carefully and always choose one with the fewest ingredients and very little sugar (3 grams of sugar or less per 2 tablespoons of dressing). Avoid dressings made with trans fats, and choose those made with extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil. Be aware that low-fat and nonfat dressings frequently contain added sugar to improve their flavor, so be extra vigilant about label reading.