People roll their eyes when they hear I make my own salad dressing. From their reaction you’d think I was weaving my own linen or milling my own wheat. But homemade salad dressing is one of those ludicrously simple items that provides a suspiciously high return on your investment. Think of it as the Ponzi scheme of the culinary world — only no one gets hurt.
Homemade salad dressing takes all of 2 minutes, requires no specialized equipment and can be fine-tuned to suit any palate. Not only is it as low-sodium as you choose, it costs less than the gourmet dressings in the grocery store.
Homemade Salad Dressing
Whether you want a simple vinaigrette or creamy variation, all dressings come down to these 5 elements:
- Oil: Don’t use that $35 bottle of extra virgin olive oil you picked up at the specialty shop. The high end oils are usually for finishing and the delicate qualities will get lost. Instead, use a good quality olive oil or neutral-tasting alternative like canola, grapeseed or safflower. Combined with a bit of sesame oil or nut oil, you’ve got an dressing you won’t find in the store. How much oil do you need? Traditionally, the oil to acid ratio is 3 to 1, but I prefer an equal mix.
- Acid: The go-to vinegars are balsamic, red wine and white wine. Want a change of pace? Try champagne or sherry vinegar. Alternatively, you can substitute some or all of the vinegar with freshly squeezed lemon juice. A splash of lime juice goes well with citrus-based salads.
- Sweet: To take the edge off the acid, add a touch of sugar. Ordinary white sugar will do, but you’ll add more flavour with honey, maple syrup, apple juice, frozen orange juice concentrate or even jam.
- Salt: A generous pinch or two is usually enough. If salt tolerances vary at your table, season individual servings with finishing salt.
- Aromatics: Minced fresh herbs, shallots, citrus rind, black pepper and/or garlic aren’t mandatory but add flavour and variety. Common salad herbs include basil, thyme, tarragon, cilantro, mint, parsley and dill. Mix and match as you please.
Mix and Pour
To make your dressing, combine all the ingredients in a small mason jar with tight fitting lid and shake. If using a small bowl, whisk the oil into the other ingredients. Store any unused dressing in the refrigerator.
Before serving, sample a bit of dressing on a piece of lettuce and, if necessary, adjust according. Here are some quick fixes to common issues.
- Find garlic too intense? Don’t add garlic directly to the mix. Instead, crush a clove with the flat of a knife to release some of the juices. Drop the clove in the oil reserved for the salad dressing and shake to incorporate the juices. After 5 to 10 minutes, remove the clove and use the gently flavoured oil in the dressing.
- If you don’t like the oil to separate, a bit of mustard will help emulsify the dressing.
- Creamy dressing more your style? Add a bit of mayonnaise or use buttermilk as a base.
- Add heat with a bit of curry paste or oil infused with dried chilies.
Of course, you can always go to town with the extras. Sweet, salty, spicy or crunchy, almost anything tops a salad. Though sadly, this is one dish where chocolate chips fail to make an appreciable difference.
- strong cheese, grated or crumbled
- bacon bits
- dried fruit
- fresh fruit slices
- nuts – toasted, spiced or candied
- toasted seeds
Still need some inspiration? This maple dressing goes beautifully with fresh greens and candied nuts. Homemade ranch dressing goes well on baby spinach with bacon bits. What’s your favourite flavour combination?