Bye bye bottled dressing! A simple 5 minute recipe for salad dressing using cider vinegar. Plus a simple list of the elements to make a great home-made salad dressing and vinaigrette from scratch.
I think I could come up with a new salad dressing recipe every week for a year, and never run out of ideas. 52 dressings. I think I could do that. I just might. I am not humblebragging at all, for realz it’s not that hard. You see, dressings are formulaic.
Here’s what it takes to make a great salad dressing:
First you start with the acidic element. The acidic ingredient gives the dressing tanginess, brightness or a sour taste. Sour is important to add to dressing because greens are inherently bitter (though to varying degrees) and sour balances bitter.
A lot of dressings get their acidity from vinegars, like this cider vinegar dressing below. But there are of course other acidic ingredients used in dressings such as fruit juices, citrus, buttermilk and yogurt.
There certainly are dressings made without fat, but most have fat in them in equal or greater proportion to the acidic ingredient. The oil carries the flavors of the other ingredients, and makes their flavors more pronounced (ie fat is flavor.)
Oils, and oil emulsions like mayonnaise, and dairy fat (like sour cream) are the most common fats used. Nut butters and ground seeds (like tahini) are other less traditional fats used in dressing.
From a nutritional standpoint, fat is important to help us absorb and digest nutrients in our salads and they also provide satiety. But at 120 calories per tablespoon of oil, it is important that we don’t go overboard with them. I try to keep the fat at about 50% or less of the total volume of dressing. Yogurt and buttermilk in creamy dressings and optional ingredients in both creamy dressings and vinaigrettes (see below) are ways to keep the fat ratio at 50% or less.
I rarely make salad dressing without some form of allium in in. I try to keep things simple and not use more than one. And I like to use a light hand with whichever one I am using. In the case of this cider vinegar dressing I used shallot. But some other examples of allium in dressing are garlic (and granulated garlic and roasted garlic), onion and chive. This is not absolutely necessary, but in small amounts allium adds so much to a dressing.
An emulsifier is an ingredient that makes oil and water hold together. These are useful in salad dressings because they keep the ingredients in suspension. The two most common emulsifiers in salad dressings are mustard and egg yolk. I also am a fan of using my blender or mini prep to blend my dressings, which can make the temporary emulsions hold longer. See more below about blending techniques. Commercial dressings use soy lecithin which is a soy derived emulsifier.
These are ingredients that are added to dressings like roasted tomatoes, cheese, peanut butter, fruit, pesto and fresh herbs that make them flavorful and unique. Some optional ingredients like Greek Yogurt are all about making the dressing creamy and have nice thick texture and mouth-feel. Others like chopped herbs add a big punch of flavor. Others like tahini do both.
I find that I really like to add a little bit of something sweet to a lot of my dressings. Again this in part has to do with the ratio of fat. Honey, maple syrup and agave are great ways to add a balancing sweet note because they are already liquid. Naturally sweet fruits like raspberries can also do this very well. Sweetness is not required, so that’s why it falls into the optional category.
Salt and Pepper
If you use soy sauce, miso, capers, fish sauce or another salty ingredient you can get away without adding more salt or very little. Keep in mind that if you don’t have salt to balance the acidity, your dressing will seem too strong. This is especially important in lower fat dressings that do not have bulking ingredients added. I am a huge pepper lover. I usually add pepper to my dressings and to the salad too at the table. Consider the ingredients in your salad before you season. If you have Parmesan or feta in the salad, season the dressing lightly, then taste the salad once it is tossed and add more salt if the salad need it.
There are lots of ways to mix the ingredients together. A whisk in a bowl and a jar are very simple ways of creating an emulsion. I favor using a blender or mini prep for dressing because it chops the optional ingredients more finely and it makes their flavor more pronounced. Machine blended dressings stay in emulsion longer in the fridge too which is great if you like to have the dressing on hand for several salads.
Other LINKS of interest:
In case you missed it, here is a little tutorial on stocking your pantry with vinegars.
Read more on the health benefits of cider vinegar here.
My friend Lizzie reminded me that cider vinegar is alkalizing too for those of you interested in getting more alkalizing ingredients into your diet.
Caper Vinaigrette, a great one for fish topped salad like Salad Nicose.
Simple Caesar Salad Dressing, no raw eggs in this one.
Cranberry Vinaigrette, this is a bright and cheery cold weather salad dressing.
Home made cider vinegar salad dressing is so easy, you'll never go back to bottled dressing.
- 1 small shallot (or one lobe of a large), peeled, cored and quartered
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
- 2 teaspooons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons honey
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Puree shallot, oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper in a blender or mini prep or with an immersion blender in a large cup until smooth, about 30 seconds. Use immediately or store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving if it becomes solid.