Got two minutes? Along with Olive oil, Dijon Mustard and Balsamic vinegar, that’s all you need to make a simple homemade vinaigrette. You can go from spending money on salad dressing to making your own healthier, tastier dressing at home.
I’ve always loved a good salad. Yet even when it’s snowing outside, I still can’t kick my salad habit. This homemade emulsified vinaigrette dressing is my favourite – and arguably the easiest to whip together, too. It’s super, super easy to make and way less expensive and healthier than the store bought one. And I know exactly what goes into it!
Emulsified dressings are thick and creamy and really cling to your veggies. This basic dressing recipe, which features Dijon mustard and subtly sweet balsamic vinegar, gives greens a creamy kick that tastes great all year round.
Not just for salads: Drizzle over roast potatoes, or spoon over a sandwich. They also make a light and brightly flavoured topping for poached or grilled fish or poultry, roasted meats, and cooked or raw vegetables.
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- In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard and Balsamic Vinegar until dressing is emulsified and smooth.
- When incorporating the oil, don't add all of it at once. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil in a stream until the vinaigrette is emulsified.
- Season with salt and/or pepper, if using, and mix well any optional desired seasoning variations (see Notes).
- Once it’s mixed, just taste and adjust the seasonings if you like, and you’re good to go. Since tasting a vinaigrette on its own can give you a skewed idea of its flavour, taste it by dipping leaf into the dressing, shake off the excess, and try. This will give you a much better idea of how your vinaigrette will taste with the finished salad.
- Place the salad in a medium bowl and add enough dressing to moisten. Start with a tablespoon of dressing, toss, and continue adding until the greens are evenly coated and look glossy. Serve immediately.
- If you’re not serving your vinaigrette right away, you may have to shake or whisk it again right before serving. And be sure to taste leftover dressing before tossing it with salad ingredients: Sometimes the dressing needs a little re-seasoning to keep it tasting bright and fresh.
- Keep leftover dressing in a sealed jar, or another container with a tight lid, in the refrigerator for several weeks. If any of the ingredients in your vinaigrette were previously refrigerated or are fresh, like lemon juice or minced shallots, then store it in the refrigerator up to five days.
The salad dressed in the badly emulsified vinaigrette speeds up signs of wilting, while the salad dressed in the proper vinaigrette preserves its crispness and fresh-tasting.
Apparently, straight-up oil is much more damaging to leaves than an oil-vinegar mixture.
Unless you emulsify your vinaigrette, you end up with a pile of leaves dressed in oil, and a pool of vinegar at the bottom of the salad bowl, completely destroying the flavor of the sauce.
An emulsified vinaigrette, however, uses the power of surfactants to help both oil and vinegar cling tightly to the leaves. Balanced flavor in every mouthful.
The trick to getting your dressing to emulsify is to add a third ingredient that acts as a helper. Dijon Mustard is the classic French addition and my favourite, but you could also experiment others (see notes).
You can also exchange the basic ingredientsWhen you know your ratio of acid to oil, you don't need a recipe. For ratio, the classic proved to be best:
- three parts of vinegar to one part of emulsifier
- two to three parts oil to one part vinegar
Choosing the Oil:Use a tasty oil to make your vinaigrette — any tasty oil. This can be a fancy extra-virgin olive oil (my favourite), or a mild-flavoured one that you really like. You can also use a Nut oil like walnut oil, or hazelnut oil or a bit of sesame oil which adds a delicious Asian vibe. Just be careful of using oils with very strong, intense flavours, like some nut oils. You might like the flavour of these oils on their own, but they can sometimes overwhelm the delicate flavours in a salad. Try using a strongly flavoured oil for half of the oil in the dressing and a more mild oil, like regular olive oil, for the other half. You could, of course, use something with a bit more of a distinctive flavour, such as avocado oil. Grapeseed oil is lovely if you can afford it. You can also use coconut oil or any other oil in your cupboard. Anything from safflower oil to canola oil to soybean oil. It doesn't need to be particularly fancy or expensive – it just needs to be an oil with a flavour you like. The higher quality oil is going to taste the best.
Choosing the VinegarVinegar range in acidity from about 4 to 7 percent. The higher the acidity, the sharper the pucker power, and the more oil you'll need to balance it. Be sure to check the label for the acid level. Anything goes for the vinegar, but the same rule applies: Pick something tasty. Balsamic vinegar (my favourite) is a bolder choice; it lends a wonderful sweet/tart flavour to the mix. Most wine vinegars will yield a lighter vinaigrette. White wine vinegar is perfectly adequate, and red wine vinegar is even nicer, light choice. Apple cider vinegar lends a nice little bite. Sherry vinegar is also nice, but can be bold, so tread lightly. Rice vinegar is less acidic (about 4 percent) so it needs less oil than others with higher acidity. It is widely used in oriental cuisine. Fresh-squeezed Lemon juice (orange and lime juices also fall into this category) is often substituted for vinegar, but it's slightly more acidic than some vinegars, so it may require a bit more oil. If you prefer just supplement the vinegar with acidy citrus juices rather than replace the vinegar entirely. Generally, I would swap out half the vinegar for citrus juice. Just be sure to taste and adjust as you go. Over time, fresh lemon juice loses some of its punch, so it's best to make a small batch and use it up quickly. Again, as long as you enjoy the flavour, it will likely make a good vinaigrette. The only thing you should stay entirely away from is plain distilled white vinegar, which is good for household cleaning but not so much for salad dressings. It has a very strong, harsh flavour that isn't generally very good in vinaigrette.
Choosing the emulsionA surfactant is the scientific name for an emulsifier, a.k.a. something that attracts both water and oil molecules and binds them together. If you’ve ever tried to make salad dressing from scratch, you know that one of the biggest challenges is getting the oil and the vinegar to mix properly. No matter how hard you try to shake, stir, or whisk oil and vinegar together, they eventually separate. Forcing oil and vinegar to combine is called an emulsion. After adding an effective emulsifier to oil and vinegar and mixing thoroughly, separation of the oil from the vinegar will take much longer or won’t happen at all. The most common emulsifiers in your kitchen are likely egg yolks, mayonnaise, prepared mustard (preferably Dijon), honey, molasses, garlic, anchovy paste, and tomato paste. But you could also experiment with miso or even agave nectar, depending on whether your palate leans toward saltier or sweeter flavors. Mustard: A prepared mustard, such as Dijon (my favourite), mixed with the acid adds flavour and will help a vinaigrette emulsify when the oil is slowly incorporated – it’s kind of vinaigrette’s best pal. It will also help stabilize the emulsion, so the dressing won't separate as quickly. Use a minimum of 1 teaspoon mustard for each tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice (1:3); the more mustard used, the better the emulsion will be, but be aware that the dressing will also be thicker. Honey is doable, and it helps balance out acidity, but it's best application is as an additive to another primary emulsifier, such as Dijon. Think of it as more insurance against breaking. Whole Eggs and Egg Yolks (hard-boiled yolks or Raw egg yolks that have been forced through a sieve) can be whisked into the acid before the oil is added. A classic Caesar salad uses a coddled egg, which is an egg that's been simmered in its shell for 1 minute. When incorporated into a Caesar salad, the coddled egg provides a creamy mouthfeel. Keep in mind that raw eggs or yolks are not recommended for infants, pregnant women, the elderly, or those with a compromised immune system—and this includes the coddled egg used to make a Caesar salad. To avoid the risk of salmonella infection, you can use a pasteurized egg or yolk. I don't use yolks in my vinaigrette (no, not because of the raw egg), because they will cause the vinaigrette to foam up; the residual bubbles will pretty much stay there, even after you dress your salad. Garlic: Mashed roasted garlic or fresh garlic paste (made by mashing garlic with salt in a mortar and pestle or by mincing and mashing the combination with a heavy knife) can help bring a dressing together. Garlic's flavor is best when fresh, and its pungency tends to increase a bit over time, so if you plan to keep leftovers, go easy on the fresh garlic. Miso: Chefs and home cooks are coming around to the miracle of miso, a fermented soybean paste that is widely used in Japanese and Korean cuisines. Miso adds a mellow, salty-sweet depth and body flavour to any kind of dressing, but it can be salty, so hold off on adding salt until you've tasted the dressing. For a more neutral flavor, use mayonnaise.
Optional SweetenersSweeteners such as sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, or agave are optional, but a little can help round out the sharpness of lemon juice or more acidic vinegar. And lightly sweetened dressings usually need less oil to achieve balance—a bonus for those trying to lower their fat intake (but keep the amount small, as calorie counts go up). The French are fans of adding minced shallot for sweetness: For the best flavor, wilt the shallot in the acid and salt for 10 to 15 minutes before whisking in the oil. Another way to counteract the acid is to dilute the dressing with a few drops of water.
Optional seasoning variationsFeel free to play with other optional seasoning variations. Just don't overdo it, choose 1 or 2, to taste:
- Herbs: Stir in one or more chopped fresh herbs. Add 2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs (dried herbs work, too). Tarragon and thyme are good on their own, while mint and basil pair well. Cilantro is surprisingly wonderful with dill. And chives and parsley go well with any herb. For an Italian flavour use oregano or Italian seasoning. Fresh herbs give vinaigrette a punch of brightness
- Try adding honey and toasted crushed nuts to a basic vinaigrette. It rocks in more ways than one
- Incorporate fresh flavor-boosters including chopped tomato, grated onion, or ½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger — you can also use any juice squeezed from these. The Japanese restaurant favorite, carrot ginger dressing, is basically a vinaigrette pureed in the blender with lots of carrot and ginger
- Garlic: Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic or 1/2 clove crushed, or garlic powder
- Scallion: Add 3 chopped whole scallions (about 1/4 cup) or Shallots to add pungency
- I also love to add 2 tablespoons whole Grainy mustard
- Incorporate grated or crumbled Bold cheese, such as Parmesan, feta, Pecorino Romano, Gorgonzola, or blue cheese. Use a whisk if you prefer a chunkier texture or a blender for a smooth one
- Spices: freshly ground black pepper, smoked paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, a bit of horseradish, red 'Fresno Chili' pepper, finely chopped, or even a bit of Sriracha add a bit of heat
- Mayonnaise, yogourt or Sour Cream
- Season your dressing with condiments such as Worcestershire sauce, reduced-sodium soy sauce, or steak sauce
- Season with toasted and coarsely crushed Seeds: 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, sesame seeds. Toast seeds in a dry small skillet over medium heat, tossing, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Let cool, then chop. Whisk with the basic dressing
- Add briny elements such as capers, olives, dill pickles, or cornichons (French sour gherkins). Even the brine they're packed in can add a welcome hit of flavor
- Use anchovies to add depth to dressing. Start slow and use just enough to let the anchovy work its magic without overpowering the dressing. Anchovy paste is much easier to use than canned fillets
- Bump up a lemon-juice-based vinaigrette by adding fresh citrus zest, which packs an intense zap of citrus flavor
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