The world of olive oil encompasses all different sorts of oils made with different varieties of olives, some stone-milled and others cold-pressed, some called “light” and some called “extra virgin.” Although it's easy to get lost among these culinary buzzwords, the immense amount of options on the shelves also means that you have plenty of tasty choices for drizzling olive oil on your dinner salad.
As a rule of thumb, turn to extra-virgin olive oils for your dinner salads. Manufacturers produce this type of oil by pressing olives without the use of chemicals, making for a more pure -- and in turn, more complex tasting -- oil. Extra-virgin oils are also free of the taste defects that refined olive oils may contain, a quality that helps the taste of your salad shine through. As you sample different labels of olive oil, try tasting just a dab by itself. Look for a fresh, not stale or stagnant, fragrance, and flavors such as herbs, fruit, grass or nuts. These complex flavors indicate an olive oil that will complement your salad rather than dampen its taste.
Pair It Properly
The “extra-virgin” label isn't the end of your quest for olive oil. Even among this specific category, oils range widely in taste, from light and mellow to sharp and bitter. Although there are no hard rules for pairing olive oil to salads, oils with light-to-medium flavors typically complement mild dinner salads -- such as iceberg-based blends -- while more robust oils work well with heavier salads, such as those that contain red meat, lots of cheese or dark greens. Mellow, citrus-tinged olive oils pair best with more delicate salads, such as sprout salads or seafood salads.
Spice It Up
To create a more flavorful dinner salad dressing, mix your extra-virgin olive oil with a few time-tested ingredients. To create a French vinaigrette, for example, combine 3 parts olive oil with 1 part red wine vinegar, and season with salt, freshly ground pepper, garlic and mustard powder. Olive oil also plays well with fresh-squeezed citrus juice and white balsamic vinegar for a crisp, summery dressing. Try it with red wine vinegar, honey and savory seasonings such as dill weed and onion powder for a richer blend that suits dinner salads, such as those made with raw collard greens or broccoli.
Mind These Tips
Avoid heating your extra-virgin olive oil before drizzling it onto your dinner salad, as cool oil retains more of its flavor than heated oil. Likewise, keep your oil in a cool, dark place and never mix fresh oil with old oil; otherwise, your fresh oil may lose its flavor or even become rancid. If you find a bottle labeled "refined olive oil" or simply “olive oil,” chances are it contains a mixture of virgin and refined olive oil, the latter of which derives from filtering low-quality virgin olive oil. For a more flavorful salad, avoid this option if possible.