How to Make Homemade Salad Dressings

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The convenience of most commercial salad dressings comes with a flavor tradeoff. Since they’re designed to last for months in your fridge, they’re loaded with preservatives, and since they’re mass produced in huge quantities, they can taste bland in comparison to a freshly made dressing.

So, if you’re pouring a premixed salad out of a bag, by all means used a bottled dressing. . . but if you’re going to the trouble to assemble your own salad why not crown it with a homemade dressing? It will take you a few extra minutes, but translate into a big difference in flavor.

Things You'll Need

  • For vinaigrette-based dressings:
  • High-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • (you may also enjoy experimenting with grapeseed, hazelnut, or walnut oil)
  • Wine vinegar (red or white, as you choose) or a flavored vinegar such as balsamic
  • For creamy dressings:
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sour cream
  • Seasonings:
  • (mix and match your own combinations)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dijon mustard
  • Garlic
  • Chopped fresh herbs (basil, thyme, and tarragon work particularly well)
  • Spices (good choices include cumin, caraway seeds, and poppy seeds, but you will certainly think of others)
  • Grated or crumbled cheese
  • Ketchup
  • Chopped dill pickles
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Citrus juice and grated rind
  • Tools:
  • Measuring spoons and/or small measuring cups
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Whisk (you may substitute a fork and some extra wrist power if necessary)

When making a basic vinaigrette or creamy salad dressing, it's the proportion of the ingredients that matters, so they are given here in "units." Choose your measuring unit to be appropriate to the size of salad and number of guests. For a basic dinner salad to serve 4 people, tablespoons work well. For 2 people, use teaspoons, for more than 4 people you may want to move up to ¼ cup measures.

Measure your basic ingredients in proper proportion.

For a vinaigrette dressing, the classic proportion is one unit of vinegar to three units of oil.

For a mayonnaise-based dressing, use two units of mayonnaise to one of sour cream

Combine the base ingredients in a small bowl as indicated.

For a vinaigrette, add the salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you may be experimenting with to the vinegar and stir together with a fork or whisk. Then pour in the oil in a thin stream, whisking it into the vinegar as you pour.

For a mayonnaise-based dressing, add the salt, pepper, and other seasonings of your choice to the sour cream, and stir together with a fork. Then spoon in the mayonnaise and stir or whisk until well combined.

To test the flavor of your concoction, dip a lettuce leaf into the bowl and eat it. Add more salt and pepper or other seasonings to taste if necessary.

If you will be serving the salad within an hour, leave the dressing to stand at room temperature. Stir again before combining with the salad or pouring into a serving boat.

Your dressing should keep for up to three days in the refrigerator. Always serve it at room temperature, though, so remove from the fridge at least 30 minutes before you dress the salad.

After you have mastered one or both of these basic dressings, experiment with additional flavorings to create your own versions of salad classics like ranch or Russian dressings, or devise your own unique combinations. Some ideas follow

VINAIGRETTE VARIATIONS

Mustard vinaigrette: Use white wine or champagne vinegar. For each unit of vinegar, add one crushed or pressed garlic clove and one-half a unit of Dijon mustard.

Poppy seed vinaigrette: For each unit of vinegar, add one-half unit of poppy seeds and one unit of honey or maple syrup. This is especially tasty when made with fruit-flavored vinegar or apple-cider vinegar

Balsamic vinaigrette: Use the best balsamic vinegar you can afford. For each unit of vinegar, add one crushed or pressed garlic clove.

CREAMY DRESSING VARIATIONS

Ranch dressing: Add one unit of buttermilk to the sour cream. Stir in 1/2 unit of onion powder or ¼ unit of garlic powder. Add a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce, a few drops of your favorite hot sauce, and a pinch or two of dried herbs (oregano, chives, dill)

Russian dressing: Add ½ unit of ketchup and ½ unit of finely chopped dill pickles to the sour cream. Stir in a dash of Worcestershire sauce and two or three pinches of onion powder.

Blue cheese dressing: Crumble ½ to 1 unit of blue cheese into the sour cream. After you have stirred in the mayonnaise, add ¼ to ½ unit of apple cider or herb-flavored vinegar

Tips & Warnings

  • Try substituting lemon, lime or orange juice for vinegar and adding a bit of grated rind for extra flavor. A citrus "vinaigrette" is very good with fruit salad or fresh asparagus.
  • Your dressing should keep for up to three days in the refrigerator. It will taste best at room temperature, though, so remove from the fridge at least 30 minutes before combining with your salad.
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