I serve salad 365 days of the year – I love the crunch and freshness of vibrant salad ingredients.
Sometimes it may just be a handful of rocket on top of a risotto or pasta, but I need that greenery.
Often I simply dress my salad with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and a drizzle of olive oil.
But I am a bit of a salad dressing nerd: I collect different types of oils and vinegars to experiment with.
My current favourites are a mulberry vinegar I bought in the Asian market and grapeseed oil.
While there are lovely artisan salad dressings, most of the mass produced stuff isn't a patch on what you can whisk up yourself.
A throwback from the eighties, low fat and fat-free salad dressings are still very popular with weight-conscious consumers.
One of the issues that I have with these dressings is that they often contain large quantities of sugar. This is a common issue with many processed 'diet' products, which is very misleading.
Sugar is an anti nutrient which has zero nutritional value and will actually leech nutrients from the body.
Many shop-bought dressings also contain preservatives and additives that are just not desirable.
Dressing should simply be oil, vinegar and seasonings, not a long list of unrecognisable ingredients.
Fat-free salad dressings will also retard the body's absorption of nutrients.
The reason being that antioxidants found in your salad vegetables such as carotenoids, lutein and lycopene found in carrots, spinach, lettuce and tomatoes, need fat in order to be absorbed by the body.
In a US study, one study group used a fat-free salad dressing or none at all.
The second study group added an oil-based dressing to their salad.
The group consuming the oil-based dressing absorbed significant amounts of antioxidants, while the fat-free or no dressing group absorbed very little.
The Italians, Greeks and other Mediterranean countries have been doing this naturally for centuries.
A little drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive over tomatoes works synergistically to help the lycopene in the tomatoes be utilised by your body.
But this isn't an excuse to drench your salad in Caesar salad dressing.
There are plenty of highly beneficial plant oils that make delicious dressings.
Salad dressing is so simple to make and means you can vary the flavours and seasonings according to the salad. I have a collection of different oils and vinegars that I use for dressings.
I have written extensively about rapeseed oil, which is a wonderful nutty golden oil which is also produced in Ireland. Some of my other favourites are avocado oil and walnut oil.
Team these with raspberry vinegar, cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar and you'll have a unique dressing for every salad.
How to make a delicious dressing
To demystify making a salad dressing, let's go back to basics.
Take a clean screw top jam jar.
Fill with 1 part acid (any vinegar or lemon juice) and 2 parts of the oil of your choice.
I generally use a finger thickness amount as a 'part'.
It's very easy to see how much you have poured as the oil and vinegar stay separate.
Season with a little salt and pepper and a flavouring of your choice (Dijon or wholegrain mustard, honey, dried herbs).
Give it a good shake and taste.
If it's too acidic, add more oil. And vice versa. Adjust the seasoning. It will depend on the brand of vinegar and viscosity of the oil.
It might be easier to taste the dressing with a bit of lettuce rather than straight off the spoon.
You can now keep the dressing in the fridge.
Depending on the oil, it might solidify slightly, but just give it a good stir.
Just a note, if you want a garlicky flavour, leave a whole clove of garlic in the dressing for an hour and then remove.
Fresh herbs are not advisable as they turn black in the acid of the vinegar. Rather use dried herbs or add fresh herbs to the salad itself.
Some combinations to try
* Walnut oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper
* Avocado oil, raspberry vinegar, tiny bit of mint jelly, pinch of chilli powder, salt and pepper
* Extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, wholegrain mustard, honey, salt and pepper
* Sunflower oil, white wine vinegar, few drops Worcestershire sauce, honey, salt and pepper
* Rapeseed oil, apple cider vinegar, pinch of dried herbs, garlic clove, salt and pepper
* Extra virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, pinch of dried rosemary, garlic clove, salt and pepper
* Grapeseed oil, red wine vinegar, dried thyme, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper
Crunchy Crudite Platter
* 150g sugarsnap peas or mangetout
* 150g punnet baby corn
* 1 red pepper, sliced
* 1 cucumber, sliced into sticks
* 8 baby carrots, peeled
* 2 baby cos lettuces, broken into separate leaves
* other vegetables to choose from: celery sticks, broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes
* Herby ranch dressing:
* 1 cup buttermilk
* ¼ cup mayonnaise
* 3tbls sour cream
* 3tbls finely chopped herbs like chives or flat leaf parsley
* 4tsp white wine vinegar
* 1 garlic clove, crushed
* 1tsp Dijon mustard
* Salt and pepper
Mix together the dressing and season to taste. I like mine quite tart, so add a little more vinegar. Cover and chill while you prep the vegetables.
Sugarsnap peas, mangetout and broccoli florets: these benefit from being lightly steamed for 3 minutes then plunged into iced water to refresh.
Celery sticks: remove the tough fibres, but starting from one end of the celery, grabbing the strings and pulling down the lengths. Chop into long pieces.
Prepare all other vegetables by washing, peeling where necessary, and cutting into manageable pieces for dipping.
The Ish Factor: White wine vinegar is another Pantry Pal which is essential for salad dressings, pickling and even some desserts.
Malt vinegar is very harsh and is really only for chips! White wine vinegar has a milder, more neutral taste and will give your dressing and recipes the right amount of acid flavour without other strong flavours, such as a balsamic vinegar would.
Salad herbs and oils:
Organic Herb Company 040466433
Apple Balsamic Cider Vinegar:
www.llewellynsorchard.ie Twitter: @DavidsOrchard