Say "buh-bye now" to bottled dressing. Making your own salad dressing isn't just easy - it's economical, healthier and more satisfying. And it'll impress your friends.
I'm going to get a little bossy. Ok those of you who know me well are saying "what's new?" But seriously, listen up. Open your fridge. Do you have more than 2-3 bottles of salad dressing in there? If you do, I'm here to create some space for something better like wine or kombucha - c'mon, they're both fermented! Speaking of fermented, I don't know about you, but when I do buy bottled dressing (and I'm not saying I NEVER do - hello Hidden Valley Ranch), I typically use it one or two times before it's relegated to a section of the fridge hidden by the leftovers where all the bottles go to die. You know that section. It's the one that you re-discover when a well-meaning friend or sister-in-law (you know who you are) digs back in there and says: "you know this expired three years ago, right?"
Back to the bossiness. Open your pantry or cabinet. Do you have oil, vinegar, salt and pepper? Maybe some mustard, sour cream or mayo? How about some jam? Or some dried herbs that need used or better yet, some fresh ones that you're going to have to pitch because you only used the 1 or 2 teaspoons you needed? My friend - you have all the makings of lots of salad dressings. And I promise that you can make 2 or 3 dressings in the time it takes to drive to the store (and that doesn't include the shopping time). Get it? Making salad dressing is easy-peasy.
What are the basic components of a kick-butt dressing?
Oils: This is the base of the dressing and the vehicle for all the good stuff. You can't have a dressing really without the base. Yes, there are dressings without the oil (or fat) but to me, that's pretty much like pouring water on your lettuce and eating it. Let's be clear: I am not about wet lettuce.
Here are some standard and unique bases:
- Olive, canola, sunflower seed, sesame, grapeseed, peanut, avocado
- mayonnaise, sour cream, or buttermilk
Emulsifiers: These babies are the ingredient that brings connect everything together and add richness. Some of the most popular are:
- egg yolks
- mayonnaise (or yogurt, sour cream)
- aquafaba - the liquid from a can of chickpeas - learn more about it here
- tomato paste - yup!
Acids: For me, it's all about the acid. I am a vinegar lovin' girl. I like things tangy. Some examples of great acids for dressings:
- vinegar - white, balsamic, white balsamic, apple cider, rice, champagne
- citrus juices - lemon, lime, grapefruit, oranges
- pickled juices - juice from a pickle jar - double yup!
Seasoning: These are the game-changers. There are Level I seasonings that are pretty much expected and required. And then there are the Level II Seasonings that have the ability to carry your dressing (and salad) to any country or taste profile you want. Italian? Garlic, oregano and maybe some crushed red pepper. Asian? Ginger, Chinese 5 Spice powder. Southwest? Chili powder, cumin and cayenne. You get the idea.
Some seasonings I love in dressings:
Level I -
- garlic (fresh is preferred but powder and salt are cool)
- salt and pepper
Level II -
- your favorite hot sauce
- worcestershire sauce
- dried herbs like oregano, thyme, dill
- Spices like chili powder, cumin,
- sugar, brown sugar
You can also think when creating a dressing (or any recipe for that matter) as a balance of the
four , well really, five tastes:
- Umami - that physical mouth-watering reaction when you add an umami loaded ingredient like red meat, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese or tomato sauce.
Here's a handy little chart to start you off. Think of a dressing recipe as a building block or a formula (or DO-RE-MI). If you know the basic formula, all you do is swap out one ingredient for another to change the flavor profile and your dressing. Easy, right? I'll likely keep tweaking the chart and if you have other seasonings or flavors you typically add in salad dressings, please leave a comment below and I'll add it.
C'mon - time to clean out the fridge! (Ok - might have crossed the line from bossy to just obnoxious!) Enjoy!
for a few or many:
make a full recipe of dressing early in the week to have all week.
mix up dressings in a mason jar for easy storage. you can label the lid with a piece of tape and a sharpie and just remove the tap when you change the dressing out.
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar, the best you can afford
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon garlic, freshly minced or from a jar
- ½ teaspoon oregano, dried
- ⅓ cup olive oil, your favorite brand
- ¼ teaspoon salt, to start
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper, ground
- pinch of crushed red pepper, optional
- Combine the balsamic, sugar, garlic and oregano in a glass measuring cup. Slowly pour the oil in a steady stream while whisking continuously whisking. Add the spices and sugar and correct for seasoning.
- If you have a hard time whisking, hold the whisk between the palm of both hands and swish back and forth (like you're washing your hands) while keeping the whisk at the bottom of the measuring cup the whole time.
- Follow the recipe but place the ingredients in a jelly or canning jar. Shake vigorously to incorporate and mix the dressing.
Janice Short says
Five stars for the articulate and comprehensive info! I always make my own dressings, but I know with your input I will be able to make some needed improvements. Thank you!
Can you recommend a quality brand or two of balsamic vinegar? I have tried several and have yet to find one I like. I notice you do not list red wine vinegar, which to me is a good thing. I have tried quite a few and find them all unpleasant tasting.
Most often I use lemon juice, either in place of vinegar or in addition to. O makes a citrus champagne vinegar I really like. And I am crazy for lemons! Also, they have a good aged sherry vinegar, and I add very thinly sliced shallots right in the dressing when I use that, kind of a French-y flair. Also, Maille makes a mustard that is a blend of dijon and whole grain that I love in dressings.
Thanks again for your great work. I am going to put your info to use tonight as I have lots of green goodness in my fridge right now!!
Lori Murphy says
Janice! Your comment made my day!! Thank you so much for such detailed and well-thought out feedback and I'm so happy you found the information worthwhile. I actually do favor balsamic over red wine vinegar, largely because I've had such a hard time finding a red wine vinegar I really like (might be an idea for a new post😊). As far as balsamic goes, of course I love ones I found in Tuscany but those were brought home in my suitcase and I haven't repurchased because right after I was there the pandemic happened. And then old habits crept in. When it comes to good balsamic, age is what matters and also if it's from the Modena region, that seals the deal. When I worked at Williams-Sonoma, I loved Fini. It's so good (and from Modena) and reasonably priced for Italian sourced balsamic. I also find Costco's balsamic (also from Modena) quite good (love the price for the size!). And if you are not already part of my email list, I plan to spend part of the summer going down a whole salad dressing rabbit hole! Thank you so much again for taking the time to comment...it means so much! Lori
Is it better to use dried herbs in dressings since they do sit in the fridge for at least a week?
Love, love your chart. Thanks!
Hi Dee! Thank you so much! That is a great question - I am going to update the post with that info as well. Salad dressing made with fresh herbs will be best used within a week so you should be good. I find that most homemade dressings at our house only last a week anyway because they get used up so quickly 😊 Thanks again!
Georgia Bartolomucci says
This has been one of my favorite blogs yet! I have been wanting to make my own dressings more often---the chart really helps.
Take care and tell everyone I said hi.
Hi Georgia! That makes me so happy! Thank you! And if you have any suggestions, please pass them along!