This is the simplest, most delicious way to dress salad greens that I have found yet.
I live for salads. I have loved them ever since I was a kid and have no problem eating a bowl of leaves for breakfast. I have made literally thousands of salads in my life, which means I have made just about every kind of dressing conceivable. There have been simple ones and complicated ones; some have been delicious, some have been disastrous. But in the end, I always go back to a simple vinaigrette.
Well I say “simple,” but a vinaigrette can all too easily transcend simplicity. You start with olive oil and an acid, and before you know it there are shallots being peeled and dijon being scooped and immersion blenders being required. There are chopping boards and utensils and vessels to wash and the whole thing has become much more complicated than one might expect from a vinaigrette.
But that’s not the case for this one, the one that has become my favorite, easiest, most delicious go-to dressing. It is olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. But here’s the trick: Adding lemon zest, which makes the whole thing sing. It’s one of those kitchen alchemy situations where a combination of simple things becomes much greater than its parts.
Olive oil: I use a fruity California olive oil – use your favorite.
Vinegar: I am kind of old-school and get weak-kneed for thick, aged balsamic vinegar. It has a sweet and tangy concentration and the thick texture makes it stick on the leaves without ending up in a puddle at the bottom.
Sea salt: I have a shelf full of salts (blood pressure be damned), but my regular workhorse is Maldon sea salt flakes, which I adore for their texture and clean taste. It’s a superstar on greens.
The wow factor
Even though the above ingredients are delicious on their own, it’s the lemon zest that that makes this stand apart. It adds such a deep and fragrant citrus flavor, without the juice’s extra tang that might compete with the vinegar. The essential oils from the peel in combination with the fruitiness of the olive oil also work some kind of magic.
I use a microplane, but you could use a citrus zester or try a box grater. We often have lemons and I love that this is another way to put more of their parts to work. (And speaking of, I haven’t tried other citrus in this task, but I am pretty sure lime, orange, or grapefruit would be pretty great too.)
The method and the simplicity
Standard vinaigrette recipes usually call for three parts oil to one part vinegar. That’s a bit oily for me, and since i use such a concentrated vinegar, that proportion doesn’t always work – so I recommend doing it by taste. Right before eating, I lightly drizzle some vinegar on the leaves, then the oil, sea salt and lemon zest, toss, taste, repeat as necessary, and that’s it.
The goal is a perfect balance of fruity, zingy, sweet, and salty. This is also a great opportunity to toss in any leftover herbs you have on hand – basil, dill, cilantro, etc.
I know that some people depend on an emulsified dressing, where the ingredients are whisked into a creamy whole, but I way prefer the drizzle method. It is super light and allows the flavor of the greens to come through – with the right touch, you end up with bright, zesty, flavorful leaves that aren’t drowning in dressing.
Another great thing about this super simple method is that there is nothing to clean after, except for the zesting tool. No jars or bowls or whisks or anything.
So there you go; 500 words to suggest that you add lemon zest to your salad. Consider it my ode to lettuce leaves and fruit peels … and in the meantime, I’m going to go eat a salad for breakfast.