How to make salad dressing: Vinaigrettes 101

November 6, 2013

OneHungryMama how to make a vinaigrette

Babies don’t come with a handbook, but motherhood certainly comes will a million competing ideas of how to “do it right,” especially when it comes to feeding. The good news is that you’re doing way better than you think, even if you think you’re doing an awesome job (because you are!). The even better news is that being a great family cook is simpler than you think, you just need to learn the ropes.

My “Family Cooking School” series is about helping you master a few basics across my 4?s P’s of family cooking—planning, pantry, prepping, and parenting—so that you can move from pre-baby cooking (or non-cooking!) to family cooking.

One of the most important family cooking skills is knowing how to make a good dressing. I know what you’re thinking: who needs dressing when my kid barely eats salad? The food nerd in me wants you know that your child can learn to love salad. By 7 or so (even earlier), lots of kids have reconciled with the leafy greens that freaked them out as toddlers, but exposure is key. That means you have to serve salad.

That aside, a good vinaigrette is so much more than salad dressing. It can dress pasta and grains, give flavor to steamed or roasted veggies, be mixed in with mayo to make a yummy sandwich spread, be used to to baste meats, served as a dipping sauce, and so much more.

A good dressing is worth its weight in gold. Now, how to make it.

The process is simple:

Begin with the classic 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar.
You can should adjust per your family’s taste. For example, I usually end up with a ratio more like 2:1. Stick with a basic, mild oil such as olive, grapeseed or vegetable. Olive oil works in nearly every dressing, even ones with Asian flavors—it can be your go-to.

You can use lemon instead of or in combination with vinegar. If you use it instead of, switch to a 1:1 ratio of oil to lemon juice to start. If using in combination with vinegar, combine the two acids to get to your 3:1 ratio as per above and adjust to taste.

Add minced garlic or shallot.
If you have to, skip this in a real pinch. Try not to, though. If there’s time, allow the minced garlic or shallot sit in the vinegar—and only vinegar—for as few as 5 and as many as 15 minutes. Then, once the garlic or shallot has macerated, add the oil, salt and pepper. The only exception to this is when you’ll be using soy sauce, in which case skip the salt until the very end, after tasting to see if it’s necessary.

Add other ingredients, if using.
I almost always add a dollop of Dijon or other mustard and a pinch of sugar. Other options include:

  • Dried herbs (e.g., thyme, oregano, or herbs de Provence)
  • Fresh herbs of nearly any kind, including fresh grated ginger
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • A bit of honey, agave or maple syrup for sweetness
  • Jam can be a nice sweetener, too
  • Olive tapenade
  • Minced roasted red peppers
  • Capers
  • Pesto
  • Miso paste
  • Soy sauce

Now whisk, shake or blend the dressing to emulsify.
And you’re done.

I gave a long list of “other ingredients” that span a variety of cuisines (and haven’t even scratched the surface of possibilities). They key to making your dressing great is knowing which of these ingredients go well together. Here’s a quick guide to help.

  • Sherry wine vinegar pairs well with smoked paprika and a little bit of honey. This Spanish inspired palate would work well on a salad with roasted red peppers, almonds and serrano ham or prosciutto.
  • White wine vinegar pairs well with Dijon, herbs de Provence and/or olive or capers for an all-purpose French vinaigrette.
  • Red wine vinegar combined with fresh lemon juice (see rule above), olive oil, and fresh or dried oregano makes a classic Greek dressing. You can add black olives and, if you eat dairy, make sure the salad has Feta cheese, too!
  • Rice vinegar combined with fresh lemon juice, miso paste, a dash of soy sauce and fresh grated ginger makes a great all-purpose dressing that pairs well with Asian meals. You can also add a dash of sesame oil, but just a dash. You’ll want to use a neutral oil in the 3:1 ratio as your main oil. Add finely grated carrots to this combination, too!

Here are some recipes to get you started.

One Response

  1. Tricia says:

    I so agree, yummy dressings are the way to get kiddos to chow down on salads. My 2 and 4 yr olds have their own personal oreferences on salad dressing. One lives for a thai peanut sauce (2), the other loves anything-with- balsamic vinaigrettes (4).

    So much cheaper, better for you, and way more variety in making them at home! Thanks forthe helpful post.

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