A good vinaigrette is basically just the result of good oil (1 to 2 parts) meeting good vinegar or citrus juice (1 part), plus a little seasoning. Though it’s best to balance bitter greens with sweet dressings and vice versa, there are few hard rules to follow when it comes to blending your own dressing. Experiment with quality ingredients using the guidelines below, or try one of the delicious recipes for homemade salad dressings below.
Oil. Use extra virgin olive oil with a bright, fruity flavor. Often, the darker green the oil is, the better its flavor. Many farmer’s markets and grocery stores have olive oil tasting stations. Test a few and pick your favorite. If the oil tastes good on plain bread, it’ll be great on greens. The bold flavors of sesame and nut oils also stand out in homemade dressings.
Vinegar. Wine vinegars are classic in vinaigrettes, but ciders and balsamics work well, too. Opt for an aged balsamic if you want a rich, sweet dressing.
Salt. Sea salt is much more flavorful than table salt, and a coarse grind adds texture to dressings. Try various flavored or smoked salts for different effects.
Pepper. You can experiment with any of the many kinds of peppercorns, but the key to delicious seasoning is always freshness. Buy whole peppercorns and use a grinder.
Garlic and Herbs. Be generous with seasonally available fresh herbs, and add finely diced fresh or roasted garlic to taste.
Additional seasonings. Play around to find the combo that’s destined to become your signature household recipe. Classic standbys include mustard, sugar, olives, anchovies, smashed berries and various cheeses. Add a little of something that entices you, taste and adjust. You might consider substituting citrus juice for vinegar or bacon grease for oil.
Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette
This chunky homemade salad dressing is sweet, savory and complex, and it’s great hot or cold.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon garlic, minced, divided
1/2 tablespoon unrefined sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 small sweet pepper, diced
1 small red onion, diced
About 5 baseball-size tomatoes (or a similar quantity of different sizes)
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1. Whisk together 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1/2 tablespoon garlic, sugar, salt, white pepper, sweet pepper and onion. Cut tomatoes in half and toss them with oil mixture. Marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining oil, vinegar and garlic, then add Tabasco sauce, basil and thyme. Refrigerate oil-vinegar mixture.
3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place tomatoes cut side down in a glass dish. Pour the liquid from their marinade over them, and roast for about 25 minutes for large tomatoes, or about 10 minutes for small tomatoes. The skins will wrinkle and pull away from the flesh. Remove from oven and let tomatoes cool, then slip off and discard skins, and dice tomatoes into bite-size pieces.
4. Scrape everything from the baking dish into the refrigerated oil and vinegar mixture, then add tomatoes. Stir and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving. Makes about 1 cup
Roasted Shallot Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
You’ll want to spring for your favorite blue cheese—it’ll be the star. If you don’t have a favorite already, try bold Rogue Smokey Blue or creamy Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue. It’s best to serve a dressing this bold with mild-flavored greens.
2 medium shallots, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces creamy blue cheese
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon leaves
1 teaspoon fresh parsley
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
1. Set shallots and garlic cloves inside a square of foil and pour a tablespoon of oil over them. Fold foil tops together, forming a packet. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until shallots are soft to the touch. Set foil packet aside to cool.
2. Puree all ingredients except remaining oil, then slowly add oil while blending. Season with salt and pepper. Makes about 1 cup.
This thick sweet-and-sour homemade salad dressing adds a toothsome quality to tender greens. It’s complemented perfectly by crumbled goat cheese and toasted nuts.
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup honey
4 stalks rhubarb, cut into thin slices
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Heat water and honey over medium heat. When mixture begins to boil, add rhubarb and boil five minutes more, stirring often. Stir in vinegar and lemon zest, and cook 5 to 10 more minutes, until dressing is reduced by about half. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly.
2. Whisk olive oil into dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or cold. Makes about 2 cups.
Garlicky Green Goddess Vinaigrette
This garlicky take on the classic dressing is perfect over crisp romaine and is best prepared at least a day in advance. Feel free to experiment with a variety of fresh herbs.
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
1 small ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium shallot, peeled
2 to 4 anchovies
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons each fresh parsley, tarragon, cilantro, basil
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cream
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Purée all ingredients except oil, cream, salt and pepper. After ingredients are mixed, slowly add oil in a stream while processing.
2. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in cream. Season with salt and pepper. Makes about 2 cups.