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Often, as a vegetarian, I find that people at the barbecue come over for grilled meat. This is to be expected. It is also no problem at all. You don’t need a whole range of sauces and condiments cluttering up the table when you can work from one perfect master sauce that goes with everything without overwhelming natural flavours or making everything taste the same.

It’s time to go beyond barbecue sauce.

You can grill just about anything, from proteins to veggies to potatoes. The only thing to figure out is how you want to flavour them. That’s where a nice vinaigrette comes in. Whether roasting potatoes, marinating chicken or steak, flavouring a vegetarian option, or simply dressing a salad, vinaigrettes are the perfect barbeque multi-tasker.

You will find that, when cooked over a flame, the flavours in an ordinary salad dressing take on unexpected dimensions. The end result is a whole range of highly-addictive, mildly tart and savoury flavours with very little effort required.

It’s very easy to make up your own vinaigrette recipe, and I encourage you to do so. Basically, there are four components to worry about:
1) Oil. While olive oil is a natural choice, you want to keep in mind that it has a fairly low smoking point. When oil burns, bad things happen. Not only does the flavour change for the worse, but there emerge some nasty chemicals which are not healthy to consume. I recommend mixing it with canola oil at a proportion of somewhere between 50 and 60 percent olive oil. Since canola has such a high resistance to heat (it’s used in deep fryers), it raises the smoking point of olive oil and save the goodness in your food. Also, canola is essentially flavourless and cheaper than olive oil, so it saves your budget without changing your flavours.

2) Vinegar. Often, I like to throw a little citrus into my vinaigrette. Usually it’s the juice of a lemon or a lime. Although not actually vinegar, these do the same job since they’re tart and add flavour, just like a good vinegar. Orange juice can be great too, but keep in mind that it is more sweet and will alter the acidity of your dressing. Balsamic is a common favourite, but it has a very strong flavour which can dominate your entire meal. For something a little more gentle, try white wine or apple cider vinegar. Typically, the apple cider vinegar will be a bit more acidic, so you may have to compensate for that (more on this later).

3) Flavour. For a barbecue application, I would avoid any really fruity dressings, like a raspberry vinaigrette. Instead, concentrate on savoury things, like garlic and herbs. In general, basil, oregano, marjoram, parsley, tarragon, and thyme are the staples of a good grilling vinaigrette. As always, I recommend fresh herbs, but dried will do very nicely as well. Just find what you like and play with different combinations. To cut the acidity of the vinegar, maple syrup adds a surprising level of complexity. However, you probably want to back off a little (or entirely) on the herbs if you use something like maple syrup, since the flavours might clash. Always add salt and pepper.

4) Emulsification. Big word, small problem. Obviously, oil and vinegar don’t mix on their own, so you will need something to bind them. Traditionally, a nice mustard does the job, and for a barbecue application, this is often a perfect choice. The reason that we use mustard is that it contains lecithin, a natural compound which binds polar and non-polar molecules together. Mustard is also very tasty in combination with almost anything you want to grill. Egg yolks are also a common source of lecithin (used to bind mayonnaise), but can be a bit tricky for grilling. Remember that egg yolks carry a food safety concern which mustard does not.

The only other thing to worry about is the acidity level of your dressing. The usual proportion of oil to vinegar is somewhere between 2-to-1 and 3-to-2. If you taste the finished product and it tastes good but leaves a strong acidic aftertaste, you will want to add some kind of sugar to even that out, and possibly a little more oil. Use your own judgment to determine which way to go (more oil thins out the flavours and makes your dressing fattier, too much sugar makes a dressing unpleasantly sweet). You can use the recipe below as a basic guideline for proportions when you try making up your own.

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