Maybe math doesn’t suck.

It’s been a rocky road for math and me. We had a tense relationship from fractions through the algebra years. Integers didn’t help and it got really ugly during my head-spinning foray into geometry. The Pythagorean theorem still makes me break out in hives. But it’s been a long time. Math and I have grown up a bit and developed a cordial truce, based pretty much on salad.

If you’re unsure of the correlation between math and salad, you obviously make as lousy and unbalanced a vinaigrette as I used to. Vinaigrette is one of those cooking cornerstones mastered on the first day of culinary school before tackling weightier subjects, like ice. But not having been to culinary school, or ever really put much thought into it, I spent years combining vinaigrette ingredients in random proportions, completely unaware of the disservice I was doing my greens.

And then math stepped in.

The basic ratio for a good vinaigrette is one part vinegar to three parts oil. If you’re using a particularly strong vinegar or something else highly acidic, like lemon juice, it’ll probably taste more balanced at one part vinegar to four parts oil. Those ratios, 1:3 and 1:4, aren't advanced math, but you can't deny their mathness.

Get your oil to acid ratio right and you can futz with flavors like shallots, herbs, garlic, and sugar. Dijon mustard is a great flavoring and it’ll help your oil and vinegar emulsify (but that’s science. My relationship with science is still a little shaky, so let’s not go there).

Once you see the math-powered light, the horizons of vinaigrette expand beyond salad greens. It's fantastic drizzled onto grilled or roasted meats, just before serving, and tossed with vegetables, beans, and grains (or any combination thereof.) As a mayo replacement, vinaigrette makes a less expected pasta or potato salad and an interesting sandwich condiment. This Basil Vinaigrette, a variation on a Bon Appetit recipe, ranks tops in the official Best Bite Kitchen, and I've used it for all of the above. It’s great tossed with sweet summer corn and tomatoes (as in the snappy photo).

Thank you, sweet, sweet math. I'm glad we stuck it out.

Basil Vinaigrette

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 scant Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. packed light brown sugar
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Blitz all ingredients through olive oil, with a hand-blender or food processor, until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste and then get your serve on.

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