Everything I Know About Cooking I Learned from a Vinaigrette
As the kid of two working parents, I grew up eating plenty of boxed macaroni, Lunchables, and frozen pizza bites. But there were a few things my mom always made from scratch, and salad dressing was one of them. Her go-to was a parsley vinaigrette. It went on everything we ate: tuna, roasted vegetables, cold bean salads, and sliced red peppers (my childhood “salad” of choice). I discovered Ranch at my best friend’s house, Thousand Island at the local pizza place, but in our house it was always this vinaigrette. I don’t know how to describe the taste other than to say it’s like sticking your face in a parsley plant and taking a huge deep breath. Oh, and it’s really good.
After college, bumbling around my own (rented) kitchen for the first time, I was a terrified cook. If I didn’t have an ingredient or the right amount, I wouldn’t make the thing. I wouldn’t so much as brew a pot of tea without looking up the steeping time. For graduation, my mom had made me a scrapbook of family recipes, and I followed them slavishly, especially that parsley vinaigrette. Soon enough I had it memorized. There are only seven ingredients—two are salt and pepper—and one instruction—”Combine”—so don’t get too impressed. Still, it was the first thing I ever cooked by heart.
Time passed, and I made mistakes in life and in cooking. I broke my food processor. I lost my tablespoon under the fridge. I went on a misguided diet and stopped eating salad dressing, a great personal tragedy I’d rather forget. When I came back to reality, I let go of a lot of food rules. Without even thinking about it, I started messing with the vinaigrette. It calls for ¼ cup red wine vinegar, but sometimes I used white. I doubled and tripled the 1 Tbsp of Dijon, because Dijon is a godly condiment. The teaspoon of sugar became a splooch of honey or a drop of maple syrup. The handful of parsley was usually handfuls, plural, and rarely did all the stems get removed. I upped the salt and pepper to taste when I learned that “too salty” is not a thing. And that ½ cup olive oil was as much as I could get in the little hole of my shitty replacement food processor.
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