When I was 19 I lived with a French family that made their salad dressing every night. I was amazed by how easy it was and so incredibly delicious, and the cool thing was that once you knew the basic vinaigrette recipe, you could play with all kinds of versions. It really inspired me to adopt this practice, and I hope your family has fun trying out homemade dressings. You’ll feel good knowing exactly what’s going into them and your taste buds will thank you!
When making my own salad dressing, I often build on a very basic set of ingredients and then taste-test to see what other flavors would go best with my salad. I can throw together a great dressing in under 3 minutes – and then keep leftovers in the fridge!
There are a lot of directions you can take salad dressing, but all you really need to know are the basic building blocks. In just a few minutes you can become a salad dressing pro! For a basic oil and vinegar dressing, here’s how I start adding ingredients:
The basic vinaigrette ratio is 3-to-1: 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar. This is just a baseline, so make sure you keep tasting it and adjusting. If you add some citrus like a lime, you may want to add more oil, or if you want it to have a stronger vinegar flavor, add more vinegar!
Oil and Vinegar
Oil and vinegar form a great base for a classic salad dressing. I like using olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which has a complex flavor. If you feel like balsamic would be too strong, I often use champagne vinegar or even red wine vinegar. you can also play around with the oil you use. I use olive oil mostly, but when I want to have a nutty or heartier taste in a winter salad, I use a walnut or hazelnut oil, and when I want a sweeter dressing like a champagne poppy seed vinaigrette, I use vegetable oil instead of olive oil, which gives a more delicate and neutral flavor. Start with the basic 3-to-1 ratio and then taste for yourself and decide!
You know how oil and vinegar separate when combined? They don’t mix! If you put that on a salad, it will coat the salad with oil and leave a sad puddle of vinegar at the base of your bowl. An emulsifier is something you add to your dressing to help the two ingredients combine properly, and it helps stabilize the mixture. My favorite salad dressing emulsifiers are honey and dijon mustard, but garlic, tomato paste, cream, and egg yolks are all emulsifiers. They taste great too, so think about which ones work best for your salad. If you want to learn more about emulsifiers, there’s a great breakdown of emulsifiers and salad dressings over at Serious Eats.
Salt and Pepper
Don’t be afraid to salt your food! Salt can help bring out all the dressing’s flavors, and the more you enjoy your salad, the more you’ll want to make it again next time. Taste, season, and taste again! Sometimes chefs even add a pinch of salt to their salad greens right before eating.
Here’s where things get really fun. What kinds of flavors would taste good with your salad? My go-to addition is always a squeeze of citrus, but you can add spices, fresh herbs, poppy seeds, or other vinegars. I am especially fond of minced shallots to give my dressing an extra savory taste!
Dry Your Salad
Water and salad dressing generally don’t mix. Once you’ve got a great dressing it’s important to help it stick to your greens, which is why I always air dry or spin the salad greens well after washing.
Making your own dressing is a great way to start thinking about flavors in your food. I like to ask kids what ingredients they’d like to add to dressing, and have them taste-test by dipping a leafy green into the mixture. Dipping your salad ingredients into a dressing is the best way to taste it, since it helps you understand how the dressing will actually taste on your salad! Kids also love measuring ingredients into a mason jar and shaking it until it’s completely mixed.