Good Question: Vinegar Alternative for Salad Dressings?

published Mar 25, 2009
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Here’s a good question from Brian about salad dressings. He says:

I am wondering about salad dressings. I love salads but I am struggling at making homemade salad dressings. It might be because i’m not a big vinegar fan. For some reason I don’t like the taste. What do you suggest for a healthier alternative to vinegar salad dressings?

Brian, this subject is near and dear to our hearts. We don’t like salad dressings with too much vinegar either; if you use a harsh vinegar or too much of it, it can really mask the fresh taste of the greens. Which is the whole point of a salad anyway. But, as you implied, simple homemade dressings of vinegar and oil are much healthier than rich creamy dressings or something out of a bottle. So what can you make at home that is still healthy, but with a taste you like?

Here are a few ideas for making a homemade salad dressing that you may enjoy more.

Remember proportions: The classic proportion of oil to vinegar is 3:1. If you use 1/2 cup of oil, for instance, you should use just about 2 1/2 tablespoons of vinegar. That’s not very much, and some chefs and authors (Julia Child among them) still feel that this makes a much too vinegary dressing. You may not just dislike vinegar; you may be using way too much.

Use high-quality ingredients: A little dressing goes a long way; we usually don’t like to drench our salads – just give them a light sprinkle. So we splurge on more expensive ingredients that last for a long time. High-quality balsamic vinegar can really make a difference, as can fancy infused vinegars. You can also find inexpensive fruity vinegars at places like Trader Joe’s.

Try more robust oils and lighter vinegar: Sometimes a vinegar is overpowering because the oil is bland. We love using roasted nut oils (like this walnut oil) to provide body and flavor in a vinaigrette. And if you have a really good bottle of olive oil stashed away, this is the time to use it. Also, try a lighter vinegar. We like using rice vinegar in salads; just a few dashes gives that fresh acidic quality, but very little taste.

Use alternate acidic ingredients: This is perhaps the simplest answer to your question. You don’t have to use vinegar at all! Try any number of sweet, slightly acidic liquids: wine, orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, port, sherry, even Champagne. Experiment with these and see if you can find a ratio and a taste that you enjoy more than the classic oil and vinegar formula. Here are a few recipes that use alternative liquids:

Champagne Vinaigrette – At Martha Stewart (pictured above)
Sherry Vinaigrette
Garlic Confit Vinaigrette

Forego salad dressing entirely: Honestly, some salads barely need a vinaigrette at all. In fact, we sometimes feel that dressing tries to compensate for qualities lacking in a salad. A good salad should have different kinds of textures and tastes going on already. Also, many people do not salt and pepper their salad adequately. If you work in plenty of chopped herbs, toss with fresh kosher salt and cracked black pepper, and perhaps smear in a few handfuls of soft cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, you may find that you need no other dressing at all.

Make sure you also check out our basic instructions for making a vinaigrette.

(Images: Martha Stewart)