Vinaigrettes are simple, versatile, classic and almost universally well-received. There are endless ways to make them. They are limited only by your own creativity.
The basic formula that I use is: 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, but that’s just a jumping-off point. A tiny bit of something sweet (honey, maple syrup or even plain sugar) is a good flavor balance. Be sure to whisk together all of the liquid ingredients (except the oil) and then VERY slowly pour in the oil, continuously whisking, to thoroughly combine and emulsify the ingredients.
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. prepared mustard, optional
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. honey
(depending on how sweet you want the dressing to be – you can substitute sugar if you prefer)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together the vinegar, mustard and honey. Slowly pour in the olive oil while continuously whisking, until dressing is thoroughly blended. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
(I make at least one batch of that per week – I can practically make it in my sleep now.)
If you happen to have some puree or coulis (of any sort) on hand, you can use that as a flavoring base to make a specific kind of vinaigrette: roasted red pepper, canned pumpkin, raspberry puree, cranberry sauce, etc. You can adjust the vinegar-sweetener combinations accordingly. Apple cider vinegar is great if you want your finished vinaigrette to have a leaning towards the sweet side. Canola or safflower oil is great if your salad will have a lot of fruit in it (olive oil can be overpowering for a not-too-savory salad) and you want a lighter oil. White balsamic vinegar is great if you want the herby flavor of balsamic, but don’t want to discolor the composition of your salad. Feel free to substitute any vinegar (raspberry? champagne?) or any oil (walnut?) to complement the flavors of your salad ingredients.
Other possible additions:
poppy seeds, minced garlic, ginger (with a bit of soy sauce, chopped peanuts or peanut butter, rice vinegar and peanut oil with a small splash of sesame oil mixed in to give an Asian flavor), chopped fresh (or even dried) herbs, a bit of jam or concentrated fruit juice, toasted nuts, citrus zest, or a bit of freshly-grated parmesan cheese.
Don’t be afraid to be generous with the salt – each portion of the dressing only gets a portion of the salt, so it’s really hard to make it taste too salty (taste it to be sure, of course!). Salt can really add the perfect flavor punch and is really pretty crucial.
I like to store prepared vinaigrette in small, lidded glass jars or bottles. I really like the glass bottles that Starbucks Frappuccino comes in. I don’t drink them, but have a wonderful neighbor that does and she saves them for me (I run them through the dishwasher before using them). They’re the PERFECT size to hold about a cup of dressing (with enough head space for shaking before serving, if it’s been sitting a while and has settled or separated a bit).
Here is the recipe for my pumpkin vinaigrette (everyone that I’ve ever served this to has LOVED it):
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
4 Tbsp. pumpkin puree (or canned pumpkin)
4 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
8 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients except the olive oil into a small bowl. Whisk well. Add olive oil and whisk until incorporated. Makes about 1 cup. The full directions for a spectacular fall salad can be found here.
and here is a great recipe for Raspberry Vinaigrette that Girl absolutely LOVES:
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
pinch of salt (I don’t use pepper in this vinaigrette, since it’s meant to be sweeter)
4 Tbsp. raspberry coulis
(the coulis is a bit of a pain to make, but you can use it to garnish desserts also and it will keep nicely in the freezer – ignore the directions about the chocolate sorbet)
I serve this over a salad of baby spinach and apple or mango chunks and girl is in HEAVEN.