As spring rolls in, fresh greens will soon be populating the early gardens. Imagine the satisfying crunch of biting into a crisp salad made from just-picked greens!
There is such a variety of greens to choose from – ranging from the lighter romaine and classic leaf lettuces, to something more hearty like spinach or Swiss chard. Even those more bitter greens, like kale and mustard, can add so much depth and flavor to a dish. There is a never-ending possibility of salad flavors and combinations. (And, if you’ve never picked dandelion greens for a salad, you really should!)
But what to put on all those freshly-picked salads?
A walk down the dressing aisle in the grocery store will offer you many options. It’s easy to stock the fridge with a few bottles to keep your salads interesting, but before you reach for the bottle, why not make that dressing yourself? It’s not as difficult as you would think.
Making Your Own Dressings
It all comes down to a basic formula. (And even that’s not set in stone!) Once you have the basic formula, homemade dressings become even easier than reaching for a bottle. And, you can create any type of vinaigrette imaginable and alter it to your salad and mood.
Sweet? Savory? Spicy?
Take that grocery store dressing selection. We’re also eliminating any mystery ingredients. (I don’t think I really want to know how commercial dressings manage to keep oil and vinegar from separating the instant you stop shaking the bottles.)
So, what is this magic formula?
The Basic Vinaigrette Recipe
The standard ratio of oil to acid is 3 to 1. Three parts oil to one part acid.
But, even this ratio isn’t set in stone. The 3 to 1 ratio is for the classic, French version of vinaigrette. It’s light and smooth. However, if you do like things a bit more on the punchy and flavorful side, feel free to increase that ratio to 3 to 2 or even half and half. It’s your salad after all.
A good quality extra virgin olive oil is the perfect base for your vinaigrette. But, don’t think you have to break the bank on high class oil. You are just looking for something that is light and fairly neutral in flavor. If you want to mix things up, try a nutty oil like walnut, sesame, or peanut.
The most common acid to use in vinaigrette is, well, vinegar. White vinegar gives quite a punch, while lighter vinegars like white wine or rice vinegar have a more subtle and fruity flavor. Red wine vinegar creates a robustly flavored, but still light dressing. Balsamic vinegar gives a deep and sweet flavor to your dressing.
Others acids like citrus juice (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit) also work well to change up your vinaigrette, either used in place of the vinegar or used in part with a vinegar.
You can even get crazy and infuse your own vinegar using Matt and Betsy’s method for Raspberry Vinegar.
While you could stop with just the oil and vinegar and have a splendid vinaigrette, seasonings are a great way to get creative with your dressings.
Salt and Pepper – A pinch or two of salt and pepper help to enliven the flavors of even the most basic vinaigrette dressing.
Sugar – Just a pinch of sugar added to the dressing helps to smooth out the intensity of the acid without losing flavor. Try experimenting with different sugars like honey, maple syrup, or even jams.
Herbs and Spices – Fresh or dried herbs like dill, basil, parsley, mint, or thyme are wonderful in a vinaigrette. Think about other spices too, like curry, cumin, and dried chilies. Or, mix in your favorite seasoning blend. You’ll come up with something you would never find in the stores! (Find organic herbs and spices here.)
Onions and Garlic – Minced shallots, scallions, or onions add great depth to dressings. And when doesn’t crushed garlic make everything just a little better?
“Wet” Seasonings – Take a look in your fridge. Mustard, horseradish, tahini, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce all make great additions to dressings.
Bringing It All Together
The easiest way to create your dressing is to place all your ingredients in a glass jar. Cover it tightly. Then, shake away. If you shake it enough, you’ll notice little bubbles of vinegar suspended in the oil.
Taste your dressing by dipping a leaf of lettuce in the just-shaken dressing. Shake any excess off the leaf, and then taste it. This will give you a good idea of what the dressing will taste like in a salad.
It is so easy to make these dressings in small quantities as you need them, and this keeps your dressings fresh. But, if you prefer to make a larger batch, it should be stored in the refrigerator. If the oil hardens in the cooler temperatures, run your dressing jar under hot water to warm it quickly.
We like our dressings on the flavorful side, so you’ll notice the dressing suggestions below already break from the basic formula. These are combos we always go back to.
Basic Vinaigrette Recipe
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (find unrefined EVOO here)
- 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar (find organic white wine vinegar here)
- dash of salt (find unrefined sea salt here)
- pinch of freshly ground pepper (find organic peppercorns here)
Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (find organic balsamic vinegar here)
- dash of salt
- pinch of freshly ground pepper
- ½ tsp minced garlic
Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
- Basic Vinaigrette, PLUS
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard (find organic Dijon mustard here)
- 2 tsp honey (find raw honey here)
- Basic Vinaigrette, PLUS
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tsp fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- ½ tsp each oregano, basil, thyme, and marjoram (find organic bulk herbs here)
- pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (find organic red pepper flakes here)
- pinch of sugar
- Italian Vinaigrette, PLUS
- 2 Tbsp mayonnaise, sour cream, or plain yogurt