Tim loves salad of all kinds. In fact, he is much more likely than I am to order a salad at a restaurant, either as a starter or as his meal. This means that I make salad at home quite a bit. It used to mean a variety of salad dressings jammed in the fridge, many that were not very good.
Then one day I realized how easy it was to make my own dressing at home and how many variations I could make off the basic recipe for a vinaigrette.
Time spent: ~5 minutes.
Seriously. I simply add the basic vinaigrette ingredients to a mason jar along with my tasty additions, screw on the lid, shake, and I am done. It’s that simple! I like a small jar and happen to have some left over from a set I bought when I made pickles, but you could recycle any small glass jar for this purpose, like one from jam or salsa.
I think the key to a good home made vinaigrette is adding an emulsifier. Most basic vinaigrette recipes call for oil and vinegar. They make a great base, but will separate almost instantly no matter how hard you shake! This is basic science: oil is hydrophobic (hates water) and vinegar is hydrophilic (loves water). An emulsifier has molecules with two ends, one hydrophobic and one hydrophilic so it helps them get along and stabilizes the whole mix. (Did I mention my biology degree?) Anyway, an emulsifier is the key to a great vinaigrette and my favorites are honey and mustard, sometimes both! You can also use egg yolk, tomato paste, or even a little cream. Obviously the emulsifier you use will affect the final taste, but that’s not the end to the variations.
I also switch up the oils and vinegars I use. In fact, this is the perfect use for that unusual flavored vinegar you got on vacation. (I have cinnamon pear balsamic and honey ginger white balsamic in my cabinet!) If you have a flavored vinegar, I would stick to a neutral oil or a good olive oil that complements the flavor. If you have a flavored or unusual oil, you may want to consider a basic vinegar so that that flavor is not overshadowed. Then add in some spices that complement the oil and vinegar or that go along with your planned salad ingredients or overall meal. For example my favorites are:
Mexican style vinaigrette: olive oil, white wine vinegar, honey, and cumin.
Balsamic Honey Vinaigrette: balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, and some crushed garlic.
Honey Mustard Vinaigrette: dijon mustard, olive oil, honey, white wine vinegar
Your dressing should start with the basic ratio of 2 to 3 parts oil to one part vinegar. If I am using honey or a sweet balsamic vinegar, I usually prefer 2 parts oil to one part vinegar. But in my honey mustard vinaigrette, I prefer 3 parts oil to one part vinegar. I suggest starting with the 2:1, mixing and tasting. It’s easier to add one more part oil than try to get the ratio right the other way around.
I also tend to add about 1 part emulsifier to the mix. So if I am using 2 tbs. of oil and 1 tbs. of vinegar, I will add 1 tbs of honey. Again, the best plan is to mix, taste, and add a little more of whatever is needed.