Salads might be one of the most versatile meals. They’re a perfect no-recipe recipe, especially refreshing when they’re full of fresh, in-season produce.
Not every salad is a winner, of course. And sometimes the difference between a so-so salad and a downright delicious bowl is the dressing. A well-made salad dressing can bring your greens up a notch from “I’ll eat them because they’re good for me” to “I LOVE this!”
The good news is that you already have a solid foundation with high-quality fruits and vegetables in your salad bowl. And making a basic, but flavorful vinaigrette dressing is easier than you think. With a few quick tricks, there’s nothing stopping you from upping your salad game in a big way.
Here is everything you need to know to make easy, quick, and versatile vinaigrette salad dressings at home. With the help of this how-to guide, you’ll be eating salads more than ever, and loving every last bite.
Basic Vinaigrette Ratio
According to traditional French technique, a vinaigrette is made in a ratio of 3:1. That’s 3 parts olive oil to one part vinegar. Luckily, there’s no angry French chef leaning over your shoulder as you prep lunch. So feel free to play with the ratio. In fact, more modern takes on the classic vinaigrette tend to include a bit more vinegar.
Still, you probably don’t want to make a dressing that’s half vinegar, unless you’re a die-hard vinegar lover. I’d stick somewhere between the 1:3 ratio and 1:1.
How to Flavor Vinaigrette
Once you have your ratio down, it’s time to flavor your homemade salad dressing. This is the fun part because the possibilities are truly endless. The basic combination of oil and vinegar makes a beautiful blank canvas to add any of your favorite sweet, savory, sour, and umami flavors.
A classic vinaigrette includes Dijon mustard, garlic and salt, and pepper.
But even within the oil and vinegar you use, there are plenty of variations that will affect the flavor of your dressing.
What Kind of Vinegar to Use
Vinegar is such an interesting ingredient. It can be bright and biting, sweet and stick, or even herbal. Each type of vinegar pairs well with different ingredients.
- Balsamic vinegar is dark, sweet, and syrupy. It’s delicious with bright fruit, including strawberries, peaches, and melons. It’s also lovely for grain salads, like farro and quinoa.
- Red wine vinegar is bright and can be harsh. It’s looser in consistency than balsamic and adds a pop of acidity to crunchy and colorful vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. A classic Greek salad dressing is made with red wine vinegar, as the briny olives and creamy feta balance out some of the acidic bite.
- Apple cider vinegar brings a sweet, appley flavor to salads made with hardy greens like kale and spinach.
- White wine vinegar is milder and colorless. It’s a nice way to brighten up more subtle vegetables like cucumber and avocado.
- Rice vinegar is another mild vinegar that goes well with Asian flavors. It adds brightness and zip to dressings made with soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.
Or, you can go in a different direction all together and make your salad dressing without any vinegar. Use another form of acid to replace vinegar. Sure, it might no longer qualify as a vinaigrette in the strictest sense, but it will still be bright, silky, and flavorful.
For example, Caesar dressing is vinegar-free, using lemon juice for brightness. You can use other citrus fruits, including oranges, limes, and grapefruits to replace vinegar in your dressings too.
What Kind of Oil to Use
Traditionally, French vinaigrettes feature–you guessed it–French olive oil. These days, however, there are dozens of varieties of oil to choose from. Including a wide variety of olive oils. From smooth and creamy to bright and astringent, the flavor profiles are endless.
Here are some other types of oil to try out:
- Avocado oil has a very mild flavor. Use it with a bold vinegar to let the vinegar flavor shine through.
- Sesame oil is strong and can overpower other flavors, so use sparingly. If you want a sesame dressing, try using another oil (like avocado) as a base, with just a few drops of sesame for flavor.
- Walnut oil is creamy and nutty. It’s delicious with dark red wine vinegar and balsamic.
- Other seed oils to try, include pumpkin seed and sunflower seed. Each tastes a lot like the seeds they’re made from, so a little goes a long way.
In general, pre-flavored olive oils aren’t as high-quality as plain oils. If you want to oil that has a strong herbal flavor, however, it’s easy to make your own. Simply pour some of your favorite olive oil into a glass jar, add a few sprigs of a hardy herb, like rosemary, and let the mixture infuse for several days.
Pair this rosemary olive oil with a sweet balsamic for a deeply flavorful vinaigrette.
If you have a strong flavor base from high-quality oil and vinegar, your vinaigrette is already in great shape. To pump up the flavor even more, experiment with various add-ins.
Sweeteners like honey, maple, brown sugar, and fruit juices balance any tart flavors from vinegar or citrus. Spices, like hot peppers, fresh and dried herbs, and seasoning blends add oomph and freshness. Puréed vegetables, like carrots and peppers, add body, color, and natural sweetness. Creamy ingredients, like mayonnaise, yogurt, and sour cream add silky texture and lightness.
Here are some tasty and fun flavor experiments to dress up your salads:
- Balsamic, walnut oil, and rosemary
- Rice wine vinegar, avocado oil, soy sauce, miso, and Sriracha
- White wine vinegar, jalapeño peppers, honey, and fresh cilantro
- Apple cider vinegar, pumpkin seed oil, maple syrup, and mustard
- Red wine vinegar, olive oil, fresh oregano, and garlic
Mix it Up
Once you’ve selected your oil, vinegar, and flavor profile, you’re ready to mix and go! You can blend your dressing smooth in a blender or food processor if it has more bulk to it from veggies or herbs. Or, you can simply throw everything in a jar, screw the lid on tight, and shake away.
Now the only question is what’s going underneath that delicious homemade vinaigrette?
Start experimenting with some of these fresh and tasty salads, just waiting to be dressed up with your vinaigrette: