A vinaigrette is the simplest of salad dressings—a combination of an acid, such as vinegar or citrus juice, and an oil, blended together to create an emulsified sauce. With just two simple ingredients, and some salt and pepper for flavor enhancement, you can have a dressing for greens that is delicious and healthy. The basic vinaigrette also lends itself to many enhancements: you can add finely chopped anchovies, herbs, shallots, or garlic to create different flavors. In general, the heartier your greens (think kale, escarole or endive), the more strongly flavored the salad dressing (add more stuff). Simpler greens, such as Bibb lettuce, marry better with simpler salad dressings.
This basic recipe uses a ratio of one part acid to three parts oil, but you may find that you prefer your dressing more or less acidic, so play with the proportions to suit your taste. Also, depending on the type of acid and oil you use, the ratio may need to be modified. Always taste your dressing on a salad leaf before using, and adjust as needed.
1 tablespoon vinegar – white wine, red wine, sherry, champagne, apple cider, or balsamic
Small pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
3 tablespoons oil – olive oil or a combination of any nut oil with olive oil (nut oils on their own tend to be too strongly flavored)
Freshly grated pepper
- Add vinegar and salt to a bowl.
- If using the Dijon mustard, stir that into the vinegar and salt mixture. Dijon mustard not only adds flavor to the dressing, but it also helps to emulsify the vinegar and oil and creates a creamier texture.
- Either slowly pour the oil into the vinegar and salt mixture, whisking as you pour, or combine the vinegar and oil and use an immersion blender to blend. Alternatively, simply place all ingredients into a glass jar with a lid and shake vigorously!
- Finish with some freshly ground pepper.
- Any leftover vinaigrette will keep well if refrigerated for a few days. Just bring the vinaigrette back to room temperature and shake well.
- Citrus Vinaigrette. Substitute 2 tablespoons lemon, lime, grapefruit (or a combination) for the single tablespoon of vinegar. Because citrus is less acidic than vinegar, you will need more of it to flavor the dressing.
- Basic Vinaigrette with Herbs. Add ½ tablespoon finely chopped herbs to the vinaigrette. Chervil, tarragon, and basil are all good options.
- Anchovy Citrus Vinaigrette. Add 1 very finely diced anchovy fillet to the Citrus Vinaigrette (Variation 1). You may also want to add some of the pulp from your citrus fruit for more flavor and texture.
Because salt does not dissolve in oil, it is important to add the salt to the vinegar (or other acid you may be using) so that you achieve a harmonious flavor throughout the dressing. Salt is used less to achieve a salty flavor and more to lift the flavors of the other ingredients.
You have heard the adage—avoid processed foods whenever possible. Bottled salad dressing often contains preservatives to extend their shelf life and added sugars for flavoring, and they rely on lesser quality oils and vinegars to enhance profitability. Making your own salad dressings means you can eliminate the additives that have no health value, and you can use the finest and freshest ingredients.
Wash all salad greens thoroughly, even those that come in bags that are “pre-washed”. And, to make sure that your salad dressing properly adheres to your greens, dry those greens well with a salad spinner or cloth towels.