The reason people say that making your own salad dressing at home is so easy is that the recipe is pretty much the same no matter what you are making. There are only a few basic ingredients and ratios to remember:
1 part Vinegar
3 parts Oil
Step 1: Vinegar
To start, choose a container for mixing the dressing. A small bowl and whisk, a blender or a jar with a tight fitting lid (yeast jars are my personal favourite).
Add one part vinegar.
Popular vinegars include:
- White wine vinegar (relatively mild, general purpose)
- Red wine vinegar (stronger than white wine vinegar)
- Lemon juice
- Balsamic vinegar (strong, distinctive, sweet)
- Cider vinegar (relatively mild and fruity)
- Rice vinegar (lends an Asian flavour)
Step 2: Oil
Next add three parts oil.
Popular oils include:
- Olive oil (mild olive oil taste)
- Extra virgin olive oil (very strong taste, use with caution)
- Salad oil/ vegetable oil: corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, canola oil, peanut oil (contributes little to no flavour)
- Nut oils: walnut, hazelnut, sesame (strong flavour, mix with neutral oil)
Step 3: Emulsifier
At this point it is recommended to add an emulsifier to slow the separation of the oil and vinegar.
- Dijon mustard
- Crushed garlic*
- Roasted garlic
- Egg yolk (strong)
- Powdered herbs (weak)
- Citrus zest (weak)
Step 4: Mix
Shake the jar. Turn on the blender. Whisk continuously while adding the oil slowly.
Step 5: Salt and Flavourings
Now add lots of salt, remembering that the dressing is providing the salt for the whole salad.
Instead of licking a sample of dressing off of your finger, dip in a piece of lettuce to get a better idea of the flavour. Adjust flavours as necessary. Note that the 1-3 rule is only approximate and will change depending on your taste and the oils and vinegars and lettuce being used.
The best salads address all 5 tastes:
Sweet - tomatoes, fruit, honey, sugar, balsamic vinegar
Bitter - endive, kale, spinach, escarole
Salt - salt, cheese, olives, anchovies
Sour - vinegar, lemon
Umami - anchovies, tomatoes, cheese
If your salad is leaning too far in one direction you can balance the flavour out
Too sweet > add sour
Too bitter > add salt or sweet
Too salty > dilute
Too sour > add sweet
For the best flavour allow the dressing to sit at room temperature for a few hours for the flavours to blend and re-taste just before serving.
Step 6: Classic Combinations
Here are some recipes to get you started:
White wine vinegar - olive oil (not extra virgin) - dijon mustard - salt and pepper
Red wine vinegar - olive oil (not extra virgin) - dijon mustard and diced shallots - salt and pepper
Fresh lemon juice - salad oil - crushed garlic - salt and pepper
Fresh lemon juice - salad oil - crushed garlic - salt and pepper + fresh or dried herbs (basil, dill, oregano, parsley...)
Balsamic vinegar - extra virgin olive oil - crushed garlic - salt and pepper
Rice vinegar - salad oil + few drops sesame oil - honey - soy sauce
Red wine vinegar - olive oil - pureed raspberries or raspberry jam - salt and pepper
Step 7: Storage
Most recipes make a lot more dressing than is needed for one salad - but what do you do with the extra dressing? Most sources will advise against keeping dressing longer than a week.
Dressings made with chopped garlic and oil must be refrigerated (to discourage botulism). Refrigerated olive oil tends to solidify, but will melt quickly at room temperature.
I make a simple dressing that I keep in the pantry, made from only oil, vinegar, dijon mustard and salt. I use this as is or add garlic and herbs right before eating.
Step 8: *Crush Garlic
Crushing the garlic is important because it releases the flavourful juices and helps spread the flavour around.
You can use a garlic press, but if you already have a knife out this is easier to clean up.
1. Mince garlic
2. Pile up the garlic and sprinkle with a pinch of salt
3. Lay your knife down on top of the garlic and crush between the blade and board
(if this doesn't make sense, look up a video on you tube)