How to Make Perfect Homemade Vinaigrette Every Time
At the heart of every good salad is a great salad dressing. And even though grocers stock their shelves with endless varieties of the bottled stuff, chances are you have the ingredients for a killer salad dressing right in your pantry. Skipping the bottle for homemade dressing can save you calories, unnecessary added sugars and excess sodium. All you need are six basic ingredients, 5 minutes and one simple formula to whip up delicious vinaigrettes. With a little ingenuity, you'll be well on your way to ditching the store-bought dressings for good. Here are the foundational ingredients you probably already have in your pantry and fridge.
Basic Vinaigrette Recipe
Active Time: 5 minutes | Total Time: 5 minutes
To make ahead: Refrigerate for up to 5 days. The oil will solidify, so bring to room temperature and whisk (or shake) before using.
Yield: about 1/2 cup
Serving size: 2 tablespoons
- 1/4 cup oil
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
5 Tools You'll Need
(Clockwise from top-left: mason jar with lid, measuring spoons, cutting board, liquid measuring cup, sharp knife)
Your Vinaigrette in 2 Steps
Step 1: Make the oil and vinegar base and add your herbs.
Recipe to try: Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette
It's up to you what oil you choose. Many oils will work well. We like to pick oils that offer a boost of flavor like a peppery extra-virgin olive oil or nutty walnut oil. Peanut oil may be too strong for some salads. And, of course, neutral oils like grapeseed, canola, or avocado oil will let the herbs and garlic, or whatever aromatics you use, shine (swap a small shallot for garlic, if you prefer). The point is to play and to figure what is pleasing to your palate.
As far as vinegar... Anything goes! It just comes down to personal preference. If you like a sweeter vinaigrette, try balsamic or a fruit-infused vinegar. For a savory flavor, red- or white-wine vinegar is great choice. A dressing made with sherry vinegar will compliment most any salad that incorporates stone fruits, especially peaches (try replacing the garlic with toasted ground or whole cumin seeds). Citrus juice can be a great substitution for vinegar. Lime, lemon, and grapefruit juices tend to be slightly more acidic than most vinegars, while orange juice is slightly less acidic (an avocado salad would love a grapefruit vinaigrette). Apple and pineapple juices are about as acidic orange juice, so again, feel free to play.
Adding fresh herbs gives the vinaigrette its, well, freshness and aromatic character. Any fresh herb, from floral basil to the mild flavor of parsley, will work well (try chives, chervil, tarragon, dill, thyme, whatever your herb garden (or closest market has on offer). Just keep in mind that if you're holding any part of the dressing for eating or serving later, fresh herbs will lose their vibrant green color. You can hold off adding them until right before serving, or use dried herbs. Dried herbs offer lots of flavor and won't change color, but because they are concentrated, you'll need to use less than you would if you were using fresh (1 teaspoon dried vs. 1 tablespoon fresh). Then simply add the minced garlic, salt and pepper and you're ready to combine.
Recipe to try: Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette
Step 2: Whisk, whip or shake it up!
How you mix your vinaigrette depends on how (and when) you want to use it.
If you're using it right away ...
You can save on dishes by mixing the dressing right in the salad bowl itself. Add the oil last, whisking it in in a slow, steady stream until the vinaigrette has come together (aka emulsified). Add your salad ingredients and toss!
If you're taking it to work or to a dinner party ...
Simply throw the ingredients into a mason jar and give them a good shake right before you're ready to use it. The shaking part is key. You want your vinaigrette to be at least partially emulsified before you add it to your salad so the greens get coated evenly.
If you don't want to shake or whisk ...
You can whip up everything in a blender. The fast action of the blade makes the emulsification permanent, so you shouldn't have to whisk or shake again. And if you're going to use a blender, then you can easily double the recipe so you can use your vinaigrette later in the week. To make a vinaigrette that will remain emulsified for a longer period of time with less effort/equipment, try adding one of these common emulsifiers: egg yolk, Dijon mustard or honey. You only need to add about a teaspoon of which ever emulsifier you prefer to the formula in order to make a vinaigrette that won't immediately separate after you set it down.
Vinaigrette Combos to Try
- Extra-virgin olive oil + sherry vinegar + fresh oregano
- Peanut oil + rice vinegar + fresh cilantro
- Extra-virgin olive oil + red-wine vinegar + Italian seasoning
- Extra-virgin olive oil + balsamic vinegar + dried rosemary
- Walnut oil + cider vinegar + fresh chives
Related: Our Top 10 Vinaigrette Recipes