Forget the bottled dressing and mix your own. Here, a balsamic vinaigrette: olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Photo by Elena Thewise | IST.
Having spent the weekend at a home with a fridge-full of bottled dressings, we’re inspired to revisit the homemade vinaigrette. It’s better, it’s cheaper and it takes up less space—no space in the fridge—than half a shelf of bottles.
The components of a vinaigrette couldn’t be simpler: oil and acid in a 3:1 ratio, plus a pinch of salt and pepper and optional herbs. Some people prefer a 3:2 ratio. It’s up to your palate. Start with 3:1 and if you want more acidity/tartness, move to 3:2.
What if your family prefers creamy dressings? Wean yourself away from them, except for special occasions when you’ve simply got to have chunky blue cheese. Bottled dressings are clogged with calories, added sugar and with creamy dressings, cholesterol.
In the time it takes you to shake and uncap the bottle, you can combine 3 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of vinegar. After you whisk together your vinaigrette, dip a lettuce leaf and taste it. Adjust proportions and seasonings as needed.
The choice of oils is up to you. Foodies prefer the flavor and healthful qualities of olive oil, but you can use any vegetable oil—ideally, a monounsaturated (heart healthy) oil. Here are the good fats and the bad fats.
Flavored oils. A great aid in the kitchen, flavor-infused oils make it easy to add a seasoning—basil, chile, garlic, lemon, rosemary, and on and on—with no added work.
Combined oils. Nut and seed oils—hazelnut, sesame and walnut, for example—add great flavor. But they can be overwhelming at a 100% strength, so cut them with a milder-flavored oil. We use we half olive oil, half nut oil. Some sesame oils are particularly potent; try a 3:1 ratio instead of 1:1.
VINEGAR & OTHER ACIDS
There’s a legion of vinegar types out there (see our Vinegar Glossary for starters). You can use a simple cider vinegar, but wine White vinegar: sorry, it’s harsh and should be reserved for pickling and cleaning.
Flavored Vinegar. As with flavored oils, these are great additions. You can use both a flavored vinegar and a flavored oil for combined flavors—basil oil and garlic vinegar, for example.
Citrus Juice. You can substitute all or part of the vinegar with any citrus juice: grapefruit, lemon and lime. If you use a lower-acid juice like orange juice, you may have to amp up the acid with some cider vinegar.
You don’t even have to pre-mix: Just put oil and vinegar cruets on the table. Photo | IST.
MORE FLAVOR DIMENSIONS
Heat. Spice it up with a few drops of sriarcha or other hot sauce, or 1/4 teaspoon of grated ginger (more to taste).
Condiments. For flavor as well as texture, consider pickle relish or chutney, chopped olives or giardiniera.
Mustard. You can use any type, but in our book, there’s nothing better than a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Adjust the recipe to 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar and 1 part mustard.
Honey & Maple. Some people want a sweet vinaigrette. Add a half teaspoon of agave, honey or maple syrup to the vinaigrette. You can also go the calorie-free route and use noncaloric sweetener.
In addition to playing with the proportions of oil, acid and seasonings, play around with other ingredients at hand. For example, in a 3:2:1 proportion of oil, acid and “other,” consider one part of:
Pomegranate juice, with arils (seeds) tossed in for color, flavor and texture.
Fruit purée, such as apple, with apple cider vinegar.
Fresh berries, whole or diced.
Herbs. Fresh or dried, they add zing to a vinaigrette.
Spices, such as a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg in a holiday vinaigrette. Don’t be shy: try a dash of whatever spice you enjoy.
Keep working at it, and don’t be surprise if everyone asks for the recipe.