We eat A LOT of salad around the Sterley household. Salad greens is a place where I cheat on our seasonal eating rules because we need our greens. I try to be as seasonal and local as possible, but in the middle of January, we rely on our co-op for organic greens of pretty much any variety. But come April and May, it’s all local greens, all the time. We rarely buy pre-made salad dressings (have you seen the ingredient lists on most of that stuff?!) because homemade is much healthier, cheaper, and so quick and easy to whip up on the spot. I taught a class a few months ago on Real Food Basics with Trade School Indy (I highly recommend checking them out!), and, when I was trying to think of what four-five real food basics were most helpful and realistic during our short two-hour class, I easily settled on salad dressings as one topic to cover.

With these cooler temps, salad greens are sticking around a little longer than usual, so make some vinaigrette and get excited about your greens from your garden or CSA boxes or farmer’s market finds!

I don’t usually follow recipes for salad dressings – once you figure out your oil/acid ratio of choice, you can experiment with various flavors and herbs. I recommend that you start off with a ratio of one-part acid to two-parts oil. At our house, we like our salad with a bit more “bite,” so ours is a bit closer to 50/50 depending on the acid we use, but experiment and figure out what you like best.

I like to use glass jars with lids to make dressings because I just throw everything in there and shake to combine and emulsify the ingredients. Here is a basic formula to get you started:

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh basil or oregano, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve over salad. If you use fresh garlic in your dressings, then you should refrigerate it after using and use within a week. If you don’t use fresh garlic, the dressing doesn’t need to be refrigerated. If it is refrigerated, the oil will harden, so you’ll want to set it out to warm back up to room temperature before serving.

Another favorite basic recipe that has a little kick:

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of half a lime
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Small jalapeño, chopped
1 tsp honey

Some other tips:

  • If you bring balsamic vinegar to a boil first before adding it to your dressing, it sweetens it up.
  • Use the best quality vinegar and oil you can afford – it makes a big difference, and it’s most likely still less expensive than the store-bought dressings.
  • Dijon mustard makes almost all dressings better. Start with adding about a teaspoon to your basic recipe and increase the amount if you like it.
  • Any vinegar counts as an acid, as does really any citrus. I like to use lemon and lime juice on their own as an acid, but grapefruit and orange juice need a little added acid for my taste (red/white wine vinegar are my favorites mixed with citrus).
  • Pretty much any fresh herb is a great addition to salad dressing. Dried works too, but remember that a little bit goes a long way when it comes to dried herbs.
  • Diced red onions or shallots are a great addition to any dressing, especially if you have time to let it sit for a bit before serving so that the flavors meld together.
  • A bit of honey is an easy way to freshen up a viniagrette.
  • Experiment! Some of our favorite combinations have come from only having a few ingredients left in the pantry that we threw together.