Everyday Salad Dressings

The greens are growing wildly in my garden, the spinach is getting munched up as soon as the leaves are as big as half dollars. Soon, I will be buried in salad greens from the crunchy and mild butter crisp lettuces at the farmers markets, to the mix of lettuces and other cutting greens in my garden. Add in the mustard greens and dill that grow everywhere in my yard now and I'm set to eat as much salad as I can handle. The only way that is going to happen is if I have great dressings constantly on hand. This is key. I mean, I love a spot of salad with every little thing, but if I have to make dressing every time or suffer through another bland canola oil based bottle of store bought dressing (for $5 bucks, no less), then there is no way this massive influx of greens will get eaten. Some will inevitably end up a slime project in the bottom of my crisper.

The solution? Every time I make a vinegar based dressing, I make at least a pint and it takes only about 5 minutes. Here is my strategy, followed by some of my favorite variations. I find the easiest way to make dressing is in a pint canning jar. Use a half-pint if you eat alone or just don't eat that much salad. The jars make for easy mixing (shake, shake, shake) and are easy to store in the fridge. To begin, you need nothing more than oil, vinegar, salt and some sweetener. However, to really make it fun, stock your pantry with a good variety of vinegars and oils. Here are some recommendations.

Vinegars: balsamic, red and white wine, rice, apple cider, champagne are a few to start with.
Oils: olive, sesame (toasted and not), peanut, hazelnut, walnut, and sunflower are a great base for dressings.
Any of the above can be used in my basic recipe for outstandingly unique results. The basic recipe looks like this:
3/4 c. oil, 
1/2 c vinegar, 
1/2 c honey or maple syrup, 
1/4 t salt, 
1/4 c prepared mustard
1-2 T dried herbs.  
Using this basic formula, imagine the possibilities. You could simply combine olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a delicious everyday vinaigrette. Or, consider a sesame oil and rice wine vinegar combo. Hazelnut and olive oil with a light champagne vinegar. The combinations are really endless. As you get comfortable mixing up your own dressings, you will find yourself adding other ingredients, such as tamari, citrus juice, sesame seeds, or wine. Sometimes I add mayo or yogurt for a creamy version of a balsamic vinaigrette, perfect for a salad loaded with apples, walnuts, and raisins.

Here are some of my favorite recipes that I have created over the years!

Balsamic dressing

3/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c balsamic vinegar
1/2 c honey
2-4 T prepared mustard
1/4 t salt
2 T dried basil
Makes 1 pint

White wine mustard dressing 

1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c champagne or white wine vinegar
2-3 T spicy whole grain mustard
1/4 c honey
1/2 lemon juiced
1T thyme
Makes 1 c 
Hazelnut tarragon

1/4 c hazelnut oil
1/4 c champagne or white wine vinegar
2T honey
1T dried tarragon
1-2T finely minced onion or shallot
Makes about 3/4 c
Asian vinaigrette

3T Peanut oil
2T Toasted sesame oil
1/4 c Rice vinegar
2T Honey
1-2t Miso paste, to taste
1-2T Green onion or chive
1T dried oregano
Salt to taste
Squeeze of lime
Sesame seed
Makes about 1c
I found this lovely can of hazelnut oil at Bill's Imported Foods on Lake Street

Blue cheese

1c crumbled blue cheese
1/2 c sour cream
pinch of garlic powder
Squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper
Milk or buttermilk for consistency
Makes about 1 1/2 c

Some helpful notes about dressings: when storing in the fridge, extra virgin olive oil will tend to solidify a bit. Simply take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before you eat or heat it in a hot water bath. If you eat a lot of salads, refrigeration is not necessary for most oil and vinegar dressings.
Why the mustard? I love the flavor from simple yellow to spicy stone ground. However, it also is helpful in creating an emulsion (joining the oil and vinegar). It may be necessary to leave it out of some flavor combinations. In that case, simply shake the dressing like crazy right before tossing the salad. The only other emulsifiers that I know of are egg yolk and possibly blending in vegetable matter, such as onions and garlic. An extra step and messy in a blender, but some find it worthwhile.

I use mostly honey and maple syrup for sweeteners. They are thick and give dressings a great consistency, while adding many vitamins and minerals. Some dressings will be better with less sweet stuff. Nut oils such as hazelnut and walnut are somewhat expensive but delicious. Considering the money you can save by making your own dressing, splurging on nice oil doesn't really cost you any extra. The $10 bottle of hazelnut oil is enough to make about 2 quarts of dressing.  The equivalent cost of good store bought dressing at $4-5 a bottle is well over $30.

Finally, my wife has discovered that while roasting vegetables, many of these dressings make a great marinade and roasting base. Why not make a quart? Enjoy!

Lawrence Black is a writer and editor at Simple, Good and Tasty.  He can be reached at