Salad Dressing 101

I haven’t purchased bottled salad dressing in years–and we eat quite a bit of salad in our house! Years ago I learned that there is a simple formula for making delicious homemade salad dressing that is easy, versatile, and healthy (no nasty preservatives or artificial colors and flavorings). Once you master this easy formula, you’ll never buy bottled salad dressing again.

The Formula:  1 part acid to 3 parts oil, seasoned with salt and pepper.

The lemon juice will sink to the bottom and the oil will float on top. To blend, simply put on the lid and shake.

Yep, that’s really all there is to it.  “One part acid” means if you want to make one cup of dressing, use 1/4 cup of acid to 3/4 cup of oil.  Keep in mind that this is a just a guideline so feel free to adjust the proportions until you find a ratio that you like.  I like a slightly more acidic flavor so I usually reduce the amount of oil.  In this case, I used lemon juice and olive oil.  I added about a teaspoon of salt and a good coarse grind of black pepper.  Put on the lid and shake away!  You will find the mixture quickly emulsifies, meaning it holds together.  However once it sits for a few minutes, the oil will again separate from the acid.  To re-emulsify, just shake again.

No special container is needed.  I like to use a glass jar with a plastic lid but you can recycle any jar with a lid, or you can purchase a fancy container.  You don’t even have to strictly measure.  Once you know the approximate fill lines for your container, you can just eyeball the amounts.  I usually make enough to last for several meals, just be sure to keep it in the refrigerator.  It can be kept for several weeks refrigerated.

This basic vinaigrette can easily be upgraded.  I often add a tablespoon of dijon mustard and a tablespoon of honey to this basic recipe to create a flavorful all-purpose dressing.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed and a finely chopped shallot and you’ve really got something special.

You can swap out the lemon juice for other citrus juices like lime, orange, or a combination.  As for vinegars, you can use balsamic, champagne, red wine vinegar, apple cider, etc.  And if you didn’t know what to do with that gift bottle of fancy flavored vinegar (you know, the one with a sprig of dill, chili peppers or cloves of garlic floating around), now you do.  Put it to use in your own homemade salad dressing.  Did you know you can even use leftover pickle juice?  It’s packed with flavor!

There are so many wonderful products on the market these days that can be incorporated into your dressings.
I recently visited a local olive oil tasting room and purchased this can of basil flavored olive oil. It is great for bread dipping and is also delicious drizzled on a caprese salad.

As for oils, olive oil is probably the most popular.  Since the flavor of the oil is important, use a good quality extra virgin olive oil in your dressings. Other oils impart different flavor profiles so feel free to experiment.  Try grapeseed, avocado, canola, nut oils, or just about any other plant-based oil that is not solid at room temperature.  (Coconut oil, while solid at room temperature, could still work in a warm salad dressing.) Truffle oil has a very unique flavor and can be quite strong, so you’d need to reduce the amount you use significantly, no more than 1 tablespoon to one cup of dressing.  Make up the rest with a more neutral oil, like olive or canola.

A touch of sweetness is often nice in salads. You can always add a little sugar or stevia to your dressing, but a spoonful of agave or honey gives great flavor and adds body.  How about mixing up a dressing with olive oil, apple cider vinegar and a dollop of maple syrup for a fall salad?

There are endless variations on this basic formula that can take your salad dressings to new frontiers.  The addition of spices can transform the flavor of your dressings, as can a handful of chopped fresh herbs or a few cloves of roasted garlic (you’ll need to blend this in a food processor or blender to incorporate the garlic into the dressing).

Yes, it easy to buy a bottle of ready-made dressing off the grocery store shelf but the reasons to make your own are quite compelling–it’s easy, healthy, delicious, and the options are endless.

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