Without a dressing, a salad is just a bowl of chopped vegetables, and is significantly less fun to eat. And whether you favor something decadent like blue ranch or something utilitarian like this cheap-o vinaigrette, the best dressings are made with intention and forethought.
Nancy Silverton’s chopped salad vinaigrette contains both of those ingredients, and many others. Each component, from the garlic to the final squeeze of lemon, is considered and honored, even—or perhaps especially—the dried oregano.
Rather than chuck the dehydrated herb in as an afterthought, Silverton combines it with lemon juice, red wine vinegar, two types of garlic (mellow smashed and aggressive grated), and salt and pepper. The oregano then “marinates” in the mixture, which softens and hydrates the herb, allowing everyone to get to know each other a little more effectively. According to Food52, this little maneuver helps the oregano “travel further,” resulting in a more flavorful salad dressing.
Even if you’re not making Silverton’s vinaigrette (though you should, at least once), you can take advantage of this approach. Rather than chucking everything into a bowl or jar and whisking or shaking to combine, add the acid (aqueous) component first, along with any dried herbs, seasonings, and alliums, then let everything hang out for five minutes. The vinegar will soften the ingredients and draw out their water-soluble flavor compounds. After the five minutes have elapsed, add your oil and whisk or (ideally) shake to emulsify.
Beyond herbs, it’s particularly effective with dried chili flakes, if you want to take your dressing to a spicier place, but be sure to only add a pinch or two at a time. If you think chili flakes are powerful in their dry state, be prepared to be wowed by their flavor once hydrated.