Knowing how to make a basic vinaigrette for salads is one of the best skills a home cook can have. And happily, this is as easy as combining olive oil and vinegar in a jar with some salt and fresh-cracked black pepper, and then giving that jar a shake. You barely even need a recipe.
The standard ratio for vinaigrettes is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. But it's a flexible ratio, so use more vinegar if you like a tart dressing or more oil if you like it richer. This is also not something for which you need to take out the measuring cups — eye-balling the proportions right in the salad bowl or jam jar is perfectly acceptable behavior.
Balsamic vinaigrette will take you far in life. This is made just with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and the balsamic adds just the right touch of sweetness when tossed with salad greens. If you're feeling fancy, you can add other ingredients the mix, like a dollop of grainy mustard, some minced shallots, or a tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs. If you'd like a little more sweetness, whisk in some brown sugar or honey.
And since we're talking variations, definitely use this basic recipe as a template for all your vinaigrette desires. Swap out the balsamic for a good red wine vinegar or even freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Infuse your olive oil with garlic or other spices for another layer of flavor. The sky is the limit here.
I usually make about a cup of dressing at a time and keep it in a jam jar on my counter (no need to refrigerate unless you add fresh ingredients!). This will last me through about a week's worth of salads. The vinegar and oil will separate after a few minutes, but shaking the jar to re-combine the vinaigrette is just as easy as pulling a store-bought bottle out of the fridge.
Do you make your own balsamic vinaigrette? What's your favorite variation?
Makes about 1 cup
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Fresh-ground pepper Optional extras: spoonful of mustard, minced shallots, minced garlic, minced fresh herbs, teaspoon dried herbs, spoonful of honey or brown sugar
Combine the olive oil and balsamic in a jam jar or other container with a good-sealing lid. Add a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously. Dip a piece of lettuce into the vinaigrette and taste. Adjust the salt, pepper, or the proportion of oil and vinegar to taste.
This vinaigrette will keep on the counter for several weeks (refrigerate if you added any fresh ingredients). The oil and vinegar will separate a few minutes after shaking — shake to recombine before dressing your salad.
• Making More or Less Vinaigrette: Stick to a rough ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, and scale up or down accordingly. Smaller amounts are easily whisked together in a small bowl and poured immediately over the salad.
A version of this post was originally published 2/11/11. The recipe and text have been updated.