It All Starts with Vinaigrette
Want your child to be a good cook? Start with salad dressing.
Want your child to be a good cook? Ya know, the kind of kitchen ninja who can take a can of beans, a hunk of cheese, and an apple and turn them into something magical? Or maybe the result is terrible but your kid is confident enough to learn from it and try again. Well, then, you need to start by teaching him how to make a vinaigrette. Period. Find out why below.
In the pantheon of things kids can and should learn to cook by themselves without a recipe, the top of the list goes to … vinaigrette!
“Vinaigrette?” you ask. “Seriously?” Maybe you were thinking more along the lines of scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, spaghetti, burritos, or even stir fry—and yup, those are all great lessons in basics to be had. But trust us on this: even if your child claims to only like [fill in the blank here—probably ranch], all kids need to learn how to wing it with a vinaigrette. Here’s why:
- Fresh vinaigrette > bottled dressing
It’s great when kids try new foods—and even better when they enjoy and keep eating them. Fresh, made-just-the-way-you-like-it vinaigrette tastes way better than store-bought versions, which means it just might motivate your child to branch out from her monogamous relationship with ranch and, perhaps, even eat more salad.It’s also worth noting that bottled dressings typically contain preservatives, highly-processed thickening agents and emulsifiers, and unnecessary sugar. When you DIY your dressing, you get to control what goes in it—which leads us to Reason #2.
- Customization makes cooking fun
Kids are wired to experiment, which is why sometimes they don’t want to cook. If the mood’s not right, recipes can seem like just another bunch of rules to follow. But you don’t need a recipe for vinaigrette.It starts with an easy-to-remember ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar—but that just means 3 parts fat to 1 part acid. Sure, you could use the classic olive or canola oils, but you could also replace some or all of it with nut oils, avocado oil, coconut oil, blended avocado or silken tofu, browned butter, tahini, and even bacon drippings. For the acid, you could use any vinegar (e.g., red wine, sherry, balsamic, rice, Champagne, apple cider, etc.), any citrus juice, or mustard.Understanding a dish’s core components gives you freedom to go off script—it all depends on your goals for the end result … which leads to Reason #3.
- It teaches thinking ahead
Fat and acid are just the beginning. From salt-and-pepper to garlic to honey and beyond, there’s a whole lot more good stuff you can add to your bowl, jar, or cup. The question to ask is, “Where am I going with this?”Making a salad with nuts in it? Maybe try walnut, hazelnut, or pistachio oil in your vinaigrette. Will the salad include apples? A splash of apple juice could be nice. Will our salad have tomatoes? We know from eating pizza that tomatoes go great with basil or oregano—should we try one of those? Or maybe we’re making a grain or lentil salad, or one with meat on it, and a kick-y, complementary spice like cumin, sweet paprika, or chili flakes will be just the ticket.It’s thinking like a scientist, which is fitting when you consider Reason #4.
- It’s science in action
Vinaigrette is the perfect way to demonstrate how oil and water (or in this case, vinegar) don’t want to mix on their own because their molecules repel each other. But if they don’t mix, your vinaigrette won’t be creamy … which means it won’t properly coat your salad … which means you’ll just have greasy lettuce in a vinegary puddle. Gross.But if you whisk the oil in gradually, you can trick them into being friends. And if you don’t want them to separate, you’ll need to add an emulsifier—usually Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, honey, or an egg yolk. Either way, always remember Reason #5 …
- It reinforces “taste as you go”
Pro chefs keep a big jar of spoons on the counter because they’re constantly tasting their dishes—even ones they’ve made a hundred times before. Why? Because there are lots of variables in cooking: maybe that lemon was more sweet than sour, maybe your pinch of salt was bigger than you thought, or maybe you just don’t like how tangy the Dijon made your dressing and you want to add more oil for balance.Teach your kids to taste as they go, and they’ll learn how to course-correct and become confident kitchen adventurers. Plus, your salads will get way better.
Did you know? Little Sous offers a monthly themed kids cooking box that will help your family connect in the kitchen. Check out our subscription options!