There are many compelling reasons to never buy salad dressings from the grocery store:
- You almost certainly already have the ingredients in your pantry to make a good dressing.
- A good dressing can be made in less than 90 seconds. Actually you can make enough dressing for a few weeks in 90 seconds.
- There are weird things in store-bought dressings, like calcium disodium EDTA and acetylated monoglycerides. They also usually contain a good deal of sugar or glucose-fructose; not necessarily a bad thing, but a fact of which many people are unaware.
Invest is some quality oil and vinegar, then never buy a Kraft dressing again.
The simplest dressing to make at home is vinaigrette, which is a French diminutive meaning “little vinegar.” There are two common ratios used by chefs for composing a vinaigrette: 3:1 oil to vinegar, and 2:1 oil to vinegar. The exact proportions can be tailored to the particular application. For my money, 3:1 is best for greens, 2:1 for slaw, potato salad, and other preparations using robust ingredients. Any tart liquid can stand in for vinegar. Sour fruit juices like raspberry or rhubarb, for instance.
Oil gives the impression of moisture on the tongue. It is also a conveyance for the vinegar and other flavours you add. If you plan on using a strongly-flavoured oil, like cold-pressed canola oil, or olive oil, it should probably be cut with a more neutral oil.
If the oil is slowly added to the vinegar while whisking, a temporary emulsion will form. Some ingredients will stabilize and prolong the emulsion. Mustard, for instance.
Vinaigrettes are emphatically not just for green salads: they are extremely versatile and go well with steak, fish, sautéed veggies, slaw, and starchy side dishes like macaroni salad.
Below are some simple vinaigrettes that I use at home.
Honey Mustard Dressing
my default slaw dressing
This is a punchy, acidic dressing that I use on coleslaw and potato salad. It’s a bit thick and tart to be used on delicate greens, though it could certainly be thinned out for that purpose.
Master Ratio – 1:1:4:8, honey, mustard, cider vinegar, canola oil
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 cup canola oil
- optional but recommended: 1 tsp caraway seeds, 1 tsp mustard seeds, and 1/2 tsp celery seed
- If using the spices, toast the seeds in a very hot, dry, heavy pan until they are aromatic and starting to crackle, then immediately stir them into the oil. They should sizzle on contact with the oil.
- Whisk the honey, mustard, vinegar, and salt together in a bowl.
- Slowly add the oil while whisking.
- This dressing can be used immediately, or stored in a jar in the fridge for several weeks.
Pumpkinseed Oil Dressing
This is an extremely refined dressing for showcasing the flavour of very fine oil. I learned it in Austria, where they have superlative pumpkinseed oil. Water is flavoured with cider vinegar and a bit of salt. The greens are dressed with the water, then shaken to remove most of the liquid. The salad is plated, then the oil is drizzled over top. Instead of an oil-vinegar emulsion coating the leaves of the salad you get the refreshing sensation of the water beading on the leaves.
Put differently, a classic French vinaigrette gives you the texture of the oil and the flavour of the vinegar, while this Austrian variation lets you have the flavour of a fine oil with the refreshing mouthfeel of the water and vinegar.
Master Ratio – 3:1:1, water, vinegar, oil
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tbsp Styrian pumpkinseed oil
- Combine the water, vinegar, and salt in a bowl and stir until the salt has dissolved. Toss the greens in the dressing, gently shaking them as you remove them from the bowl.
- Plate the salad, then drizzle the oil over top so that each mouthful will have some of the oil.
I serve this dressing on whatever greens are available, usually with a pinch of minced raw onion and other pungent veggies like radish or kohlrabi.