If you buy salad dressing, your shopping experience typically falls into two categories:
- You love what you buy. But the dent it leaves in your wallet makes you feel like you cannot be indulgent in applying salad dressing to your salads.
- You don’t love what you buy. It may be less expensive, but it may have weird flavors due to cheap ingredients and to other miscellaneous chemical compounds and preservatives, etc.
Well, what if there is a better way? Of course, everyone can theoretically make their own salad dressing. But seriously, who has time to do something difficult or time-consuming or …?
Well have no fear. I’m lazy, and I think there is an easy way to make salad dressings. And hey, you can make different dressings, too! I will show you some basic foundational concepts. You can take these general concepts and let your imagination run crazy with new applications and flavor combinations!
- Knife & Cutting Board OR food processor (for slicing & dicing)
- Jar w/ tight lid OR mixing bowl & mixer/egg beater (OR food processor)
I prefer to use a small jar or container w/ a tight lid, so I can make a manageable amount of dressing at one time (not too much to maintain freshness…this is partially why the dressing must be easy and quick to make!). Once all the ingredients are added together, firmly seal the lid and shake vigorously. The jar is an excellent poor-man’s substitute for a food processor. Plus, it’s convenient and easy to clean up. If you use a hand-shaken-jar approach, you will not need to clean food processors or mixing bowls, etc.
Ingredients for the Dressing Itself
Base: OIL, VINEGAR
The dressings I have in mind have 2 main ingredients for the salad dressing base (I will be skipping more “advanced” dressings like Caesar in which you add eggs to make a kind of mayonnaise…):
- oil, typically Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
The ratio should be anywhere from 2:1 oil to vinegar or 3:1 oil to vinegar. There should be much more oil than vinegar. I go with ~2.5 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. I eyeball it now. No need to be precise. Saves washing an oily measuring cup.
TIP: Shake/stir/mix well when pouring the dressing. It is usually best to toss w/ a large quantity or else if the dressing is not well mixed, the dressing will at first seem too oily (since oil is light and rises to the top) and the rest of the dressing will be too watery.
TIP: Refrigerate. Do note that the oil may rise again to the top and even partially solidify. Thaw slightly (and shake/mix thoroughly) before serving.
Seasoning: DRIED BASIL & OREGANO; FRESH GARLIC & CILANTRO/PARSLEY; SALT & PEPPER
I typically have two kinds of basic seasoning that usually get added into all my salad dressings (currently just two, though maybe I could become more creative):
- dried seasoning (usually basil & oregano)
- fresh herbs (usually minced garlic and (finely) chopped cilantro or parsley)
- salt & pepper
All three can be put in any rough amount to taste. This is why my dressings are so easy. You put however much you want. So maybe one time your salad has more cilantro flavor. Great! Or maybe it has a stronger basil undertone. Excellent! You can hardly go wrong.
I just dump some basil and oregano flakes in, add a few minced garlic cloves (less for sweet dressings, more for salty/savory dressings) and add a few sprigs of cilantro or parsley. Again, I add salt and pepper to taste as well. The black pepper spots make the dressing look more appetizing IMHO.
You now have a basic contour for your developing salad. Let me just give you two examples of dressings I make w/ this. I have a sweet variation that works well as a light vinaigrette for salads w/ fruit and toasted nuts (such as almonds and dried cranberries (craisins)). And I have a savory variation that works well as a “classic” (what does that even mean?) base for sandwiches and/or “Mediterranean” salad w/ feta cheese, olives, diced tomatoes and cucumbers (and maybe ham or even prosciutto, if you have the budget!).
Sweet Variation – Fruity Balsamic Vinaigrette:
My original post can be found here. UPDATE: I now actually include garlic and cilantro consistently in this dressing.
- I use balsamic vinegar for the acid in my base.
- I add a sweetener to taste, such as honey, agave, or sugar.
- I add a fruit juice (either a squeezed orange and/or other juices such as a tad of pomegranate).
Combine w/ above seasoning and base, and voíla! A yummy fruit balsamic vinaigrette.
Serving suggestion: Toasted nuts and craisans. Optional: apples, pears, cheese.
Salty Variation – Mediterranean Dressing
- I use red wine vinegar or a light-colored vinegar for my acid base (sounds like an oxymoron for the nerdy chemist, perhaps). I may even add a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce (optional), from my former days of making Caesar dressing. Here’s the original link, though it’s way out of date and I’m too lazy to update it. Use a beater, and YouTube how to make mayo w/ Gordon Ramsey. Use an automated mixer/beater (such as KitchenAid Mixer) and just use three raw egg yolks and add a bit of lemon juice first to get the Caesar-mayo base going.
- I add dijon mustard or spicy brown mustard or even normal mustard (and optional horseradish).
- I add a lot more salt and pepper.
- I also add some sweetener to counteract the acidity of the red wine vinegar.
- I may choose to add grated Parmesan cheese (optional) into the dressing.
- I add a lot of garlic and enhance it with minced shallots (one or two large cloves) and a sprig or two of cilantro/parsley.
Combine w/ above seasoning and base, shake well, and voíla! A yummy Mediterranean-themed dressing that works well w/ Greek salad or gyros or other sandwiches/wraps. You may want it to sit for 20 minutes to half an hour to let the garlic and shallot flavor really meld, but it’s still delicious if immediately consumed.
Serving suggestion: Feta cheese, diced tomatoes and cucumbers. Optional: olives, deli meat, prosciutto.
There, that’s it! Very simple and straightforward. Now all you have to do is to try different combinations and go boldly where no salad dressing has gone before. If you have any questions or want to share successful new variations or tweaks, comment below!