When outside temperatures start to rise, I find myself craving cold foods like fruits and raw veggies. Just walking into the supermarket and seeing the vast, colorful array of produce in season at this time of year is enough to make one’s mouth water. And while getting our daily servings of these things is important all year, they just taste better when in season. Otherwise, you might find yourself choosing heavy, less-healthy dressings and sauces just to make the items palatable! Of course, even in summer most people don’t want to eat a dry salad, but what’s the best dressing to enhance the flavor without drowning it out? What if I told you it’s homemade but you don’t even need a recipe or measuring cups to make it? I’m talking about my favorite salad dressing, year ‘round, which is definitely homemade vinaigrette.
Once you understand how vinegar and oil work together, you’ll be able to whip up a delicious salad dressing in no time. The most basic ratio for making a salad vinaigrette is the following:
- 1 part vinegar (or other acid)
- 3 parts oil
Using this basic formula there are almost endless variations. For instance, you could use one tablespoon of cider vinegar and three tablespoons of olive oil. Or you could make a big batch of dressing and use 1/4 cup of vinegar mixed with 3/4 cups olive oil. Or use ounces, or milliliters, or the side of a jam jar — this is a ratio, so you can use whatever means of measuring the ingredients that you prefer.
Use a tasty oil to make your vinaigrette — any tasty oil. This can be a fancy extra-virgin olive oil you just picked up at the farmers market, or a mild-flavored one that you really like from the grocery store. Just about any oil that remains a liquid at room temperature can work. Some examples to inspire you:
- Walnut oil
- Sesame oil
- Avocado oil
- Sunflower seed oil
- Pumpkin seed oil
It doesn’t need to be particularly fancy or expensive — it just needs to be an oil with a flavor you like.
If you don’t like very strong, intense flavors with your salad, stick with more neutral-flavored oils like grapeseed or regular olive oil. Or, try combining a small amount of a strongly flavored oil with a milder-flavored oil.
Anything goes for the vinegar or acid, but the same rule applies: Pick something tasty. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Red wine vinegar
- Champagne vinegar
- Rice vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Fresh-squeezed lemon, lime, or other citrus juices
It can also be fun to experiment with interesting new flavors of vinegar that you come across. Again, as long as you enjoy the flavor, it will likely make a good vinaigrette. Just avoid plain distilled white vinegar. It has a very strong, harsh flavor that isn’t generally very good in vinaigrettes.
Oil and vinegar are the base of the vinaigrette, but they need a little help if they’re going to really make a salad appetizing. If you’re new to making salad dressings at home, try starting out with just adding some simple salt and pepper. Even with just these two seasonings, you’ll be surprised at how well they will round out the vinaigrette.
From there, you can start amping up your vinaigrette with all sorts of ingredients.
- Mustard: A spoonful of mustard adds a nice tanginess; Dijon mustard is most traditional for a French vinaigrette.
- Miso: A small scoop of miso adds a mellow, salty-sweet flavor.
- Herbs: Fresh herbs give vinaigrettes a punch of brightness.
- Alliums: Minced garlic or shallots add pungency.
- Sweetener: If you like a bit of sweetness in your salads, add some jam, honey or maple syrup.
- Bellisari’s Gourmet Spreads & Sauces: You’ll find that several of our products will work to make flavorful vinaigrettes.
An example of a simple vinaigrette using Bellisari’s:
¼ cup of applesauce
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup of Bellisari’s Saigon Street Sauce
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, put in a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Or maybe you want something with a little “kick” to it:
Blistered Jalapeno & Fig Vinaigrette
- 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon Honey
- 2 Teaspoons Dried Chives
- ¼ Teaspoon Salt
- ¼ Teaspoon Pepper
- 1 ½ Teaspoons of Bellisari’s Blistered Jalapeño & Fig Spread
- Combine red wine vinegar, honey, dried chives, salt and pepper, and Bellisari’s Blistered Jalapeño & Fig Spread in a mini food processor, process until smooth.
- With the processor on, gradually add olive oil until combined.
It’s hard to go wrong when making a vinaigrette, and you’ll learn your own tastes and preferences the more you make them. We’d love to read your versions of vinaigrettes in the comments. Happy experimenting from all of us at Bellisari’s!