My go-to vinaigrette is the one thing I make from scratch every week—and it makes eating vegetables so much easier. 

By Dawn Perry
Updated February 02, 2018
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Go-To-Vinaigrette in progress
The salad dressing you pick up at the grocery store may contain much more sodium and sugar than you imagine. Luckily, salad dressings are easy to make yourself—and especially tasty. “If you want a vinaigrette, you can use healthier oils, like olive or avocado,” says Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. “And if you want a creamy dressing, you can use yogurt as a base.” Yogurt is packed with probiotics, protein, and calcium, and it also makes dressing taste extra decadent.Try: Drizzling herbed yogurt dressing on salad or using it as a topping for grilled chicken, fish, and burgers.
| Credit: Greg DuPree

Making my own homemade vinaigrette makes eating my greens easy. People often think that because I’m a professional cook, my family and I have some elaborate four-course meal every night of the week. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Last night, home alone with a sleeping baby, I sliced up some leftover meatloaf, griddled it up in a skillet (pro move), and ate it with a salad. That’s it. Not fancy, certainly not photogenic, but damn delicious.

Dinner is often just that: a recipe I like to call A Thing and a Salad. The “thing” can be anything really—a piece of meat (or tofu), pasta, leftover soup, or even scrambled eggs. Salad is the easiest vegetable side you can make, no cooking and, often, no knife is required since you can tear lettuce with your bare hands, you know. For me, making a big jar of vinaigrette is the difference between a balanced meal and one of those “I’ll just stand here and eat over the sink” suppers.

I make some version of my go-to vinaigrette every week. You can get the recipe here but I want you to learn to make it by heart. Salad dressing is a pretty personal thing. I like mine bracing and on the tart side (that means more vinegar) but if you want a smoother, mellower-tasting vinaigrette you can easily adjust it to suit your palate. These are building blocks to get you started on your own unique blend:

1. Start with a big jar. I make mine in a 16-ounce jar (that’s a pint) because I use it a lot. But if you’re eating less salad (shakes finger at you) you can make a smaller amount. For a full batch, chop one shallot and place in the jar. Someone DM’d me last night to tell me that shallots were hard to find. I’m concerned that maybe we don't know what shallot are but that’s another lesson. If you really can’t find shallots you can use sliced or chopped scallions—let’s say 4—or a little bit of finely chopped red onion. Or if you really hate raw onions you can skip it.

2. Next, add a big spoonful of Dijon mustard, smooth or grainy is fine. I’ve also made this with more of a Gulden’s Spicy Brown-style and it’s equally delicious. Just don’t use yellow mustard. That’s for hot dogs.

3. To the jar, add a little less honey than mustard. This helps balance the mustard which is both salty and acidic but, if you like a sweeter dressing, go ahead and add an equal amount of honey. Maple syrup is an option here as is agave. See what’s happening? Are you noticing a pattern? I call it customization. I made it up.

4. Season the shallot, Dijon, honey mixture with kosher salt, a good three finger pinch, and pepper, about 20 fresh grinds. Mix it up with a spoon to get it going.

5. Add a vinegar of your choice—red wine, white wine, balsamic, sherry or cider vinegar, all fine. But don't use distilled white. That's for cleaning windows. If you like a tart vinaigrette, add the vinegar until the jar is about a third full. If you like a smoother-tasting dressing, add it until it’s just a quarter full. Twist the lid tight and shake, shake, shake.

6. Unscrew the lid and add olive oil almost to the top. Don’t worry! It looks like a lot but this is salad dressing for the whole week.

7. Put the lid back on and shake, shake, shake again. Stick a spoon in there to taste it. Does it bite back? If you like that, great! If not, add a little more salt and a little more oil. Shake again. Taste again. You’ll start to learn how to tinker with the recipe until it’s exactly how you arrive at your very own proprietary blend.

8. Keep it in the fridge* until you run out, likely in a week or so. Then make it again. Toss it with greens, other blanched or roasted vegetables, even cooked grains, but get in the habit of having it on hand. It's the difference between a complete meal and just a thing.

*Note: the olive oil will solidify in the fridge. That’s natural. To get things moving again, run the jar under hot water, or put in a bowl of hot water while you get the rest of your dinner together. Give the jar a shake and it should re-emulsify, no problem.