I dedicate this first recipe post (FINALLY!!!) to my wonderful mom.
Once upon a time, I was that nerdy girl who still had a lunchbox in 8th grade, when everyone had long converted to the much cooler brown bags. I still remember that lunchbox – it was pale blue from GapKids with an elastic-bungie-water-bottle-holder on the front. Despite my extreme embarrassment to be carrying a lunchbox at 13, I continued to do so because of A) my convictions for the environment and resulting hatred of daily throw-away paper bags, and B) pure function. I needed that lunchbox because the deliciousness toted inside required multiple Tupperwares and sometimes even a thermos.
I have zero doubts that for the duration of my school-age life, I had the absolute best lunches in the cafeteria. I’m talking homemade wedding soup, chicken & pesto wraps on lavash, mixed green salads with roasted tomatoes and homemade dressing in those tiny medicine-cup-sized Tupperwares that my brothers always seemed to lose. There was always real, metal silverware to eat with. And oftentimes a love note too.
The mastermind behind my daily made-from-scratch lunch creations was my one-of-a-kind mom. I know that any writing I do about food will always be infused with references to my mom and her cooking. Every time I sit down to write something for this blog, I’m amazed at the way food memories about my family just come oozing out.
This is my mom’s recipe, which she created/replicated on her own after we had enjoyed it many times at one of our favorite restaurants in Wilmington, North Carolina where we’d vacation every summer. It sounds oh-so-glamorous, but it is very easy to make and SO INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS, you might even be tempted to drink it (only half kidding). Its hearty texture lends it permission to act as a sauce as well, and it's great on just about anything - roasted veggies, spooned over eggs, as a dipping oil for bread, you name it. I haven't met anyone who didn't think it was magical, and I love it so much that I make it almost every other week. I'm confident you will too!
Sizzled Shallot Vinaigrette
Makes roughly 1.5 cups of dressing
Total time: about 45 minutes
Active time: about 15 minutes
- olive oil and/or grapeseed oil
- dijon mustard
- 1 to 3 shallots
- balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste (optional)
Tools & stuff:
- small shallow pan (a small saucepan works fine too)
- a pint-size jar with a lid
- a knife for chopping, a fork, spoon, and a soft spatula
- your stovetop
Things to know:
- I find it most efficient to make this recipe when I am already doing other cooking. There is a good amount of down time and it’s ideal to be in the kitchen to keep an eye on your shallots while they’re heating up.
- If you like warm dressings on a salad, it's completely fine to make this just before serving. Otherwise, I recommend making it a day ahead (that’s what I usually do). It will last a week or two in the fridge - if you can keep it around that long! Oils often solidify in the fridge, so if making ahead - make sure to bring to room temp before using.
1. Peel and chop the shallots to somewhere in between a rough and fine chop. I usually use two or three shallots, but you can get away with one. The more shallots, the more “chunky” your dressing will be, and the more dressing you can make. I like it chunky, but to each her own.
2. Place the chopped shallots in a shallow pan on the stove, and spread them out to make an even layer. Pour olive oil and/or grapeseed oil* into the pan - enough to just cover the shallots. This will vary depending on the size of your pan, but should be close to a cup of oil.
*Note about the oils: I am trained (thanks to my dad) to use grapeseed oil for cooking, as it has a higher smoke point than olive oil (more info here). Grapeseed oil’s mild flavor is good for dressings, and I usually throw in some olive oil for flavor at the end. But if I don't have grapeseed oil, I make this recipe using only olive oil and it works perfectly well.
3. Using your smallest burner, turn the heat on low or simmer. You’ll keep it this way for 10-20 minutes, depending on the power of your stove. Usually around 10-15 minutes, the oil will start to lightly bubble. The goal is for the shallots to be translucent but not at all brown or crispy. Once the shallots are soft and translucent (usually when it starts bubbling or a couple minutes after), turn off the heat and move the pan to a cool burner. The mixture should smell warmly fragrant and a little sweet. If the shallots do get a tad brown or crispy, it will still be ok, just turn off the heat as soon as you see this happening.
4. Allow the oil & shallot mixture to cool for about 10-15 minutes. Then, use your spatula/spoon to carefully scoop the oil and shallots into the jar.
5. Add about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and about two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (or about ¼ the amount of oil in your jar). Using the fork, whisk it up in the jar so that the mustard, vinegar and oil emulsify. It should be a creamy brown color. It won’t blend perfectly due to the shallot chunks, so once it starts coming together (or if you're having trouble getting it to come together), put the lid on the jar and shake well. If the oil is still warm, be careful when you're shaking it - warm liquids shaken tend to make a bit of a mess.
6. Take off the lid and spoon* a little dressing onto a piece of lettuce to taste it. Add more mustard/vinegar to taste, a little at a time. If needed (or if you used grapeseed oil), add a little olive oil as well (If you accidentally add too much mustard or vinegar, add a little more oil to round it out.) If you’d like, add salt and pepper to taste.
Voila! Magic in a jar.
*Note that some of the oil will always stay at the top and won’t mix in fully. This is totally normal and fine. Just use a spoon instead of pouring out the dressing to make sure you get equal parts shallot-mixture and oil. And when you're doing your taste-tests while making, be sure to get through the oil on top and down into the shallot-y goodness!
PS. Author’s note: I never measure when I make this recipe because I do it all to taste, so that’s why the amounts are pretty rough. Making your own salad dressings is the perfect way to start learning to cook by using your senses more than measuring. If you add too much vinegar, you can just add more oil to balance it back out. If it’s not creamy enough, add another squirt of mustard. I promise you can’t mess this up (other than completely burning the shallots), but I’m new at this recipe writing so please share your feedback!!!