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  • Writer's pictureScott Rotella

Vinaigrettes: A guide to unleash your creativity


Lemon Vinaigrette with fresh thyme
Lemon Vinaigrette with fresh thyme

Store bought salad dressing is often full of artificial ingredients, preservatives and bad fats. I started making my own salad dressing about 15 years ago. When I realized that I can make a dressing quickly that is better than anything in the stores, I fully stopped buying salad dressing about 5 years ago. They are simple to assemble and extremely flavorful. In this post, we will focus on some basics regarding vinaigrettes and will include some recipes. But the point is to provide information so that you can easily create a variety of dressings with ease using a little creativity and some basics.


About vinaigrettes


Vinaigrettes are a classic and versatile salad dressing made with vinegar and oil. They are easy to make and can be customized to your liking with a variety of herbs, spices, and other flavorings. Unlike creamy salad dressing, vinaigrettes can go on light lettuces like a spring mix as well as heartier lettuces such as romaine. They are also a great way to change up steamed or roasted vegetables and make great marinades.

The components of a vinaigrette

Acids and Vinegars

The acid in a vinaigrette provides the tang and brightness that cuts through the oil and fat in the greens. Some common acids used in vinaigrettes include:

  • Acetic acid

    • White Vinegar

    • Red Wine

    • White Wine

    • Champagne

    • Balsamic

    • Rice Wine Vinegar

  • Citric acid

    • Lemon

    • Lime

    • Grapefruit

    • Orange

  • Malic acid

    • Apple Cider Vinegar

Vinegar made with wine is usually less acidic than other vinegars. That means you can use more of it and less sweeteners to balance the flavors.


Oils

The oil in a vinaigrette provides the richness and body. Some are strong in flavor and some are neutral. Common oils used in vinaigrettes include:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • Avocado oil

  • Grapeseed oil

  • Walnut oil

  • Sesame oil


I will sometimes use two oils in a dressing. As an example, I would never fully use sesame oil in a dressing as the oil component. I would use a neutral oil, such as avocado, and then add some sesame oil for flavor. I do that sometimes with Olive oil as I might want the benefits and a slight flavor of the olive oil, but do not want it to overpower a more delicately flavored dressing.


Emulsifiers


Emulsifiers help to bind the oil and vinegar together and prevent the dressing from separating. Some common emulsifiers used in vinaigrettes include:

  • Dijon mustard

  • Egg yolk

  • Honey

  • Maple syrup

  • Xanthan gum

  • Miso

  • Mayonnaise

  • Tahini


You are familiar with oil and vinegar on a salad. That does not use an emulsifier. I find them not very interesting and always use an emulsifier to bind the oil and vinegar together and to add a creamy component.


Sweeteners


Sweeteners can be added to vinaigrettes to balance out the acidity and add a touch of sweetness. Some common sweeteners used in vinaigrettes include:

  • Honey

  • Maple syrup

  • Agave nectar

  • Sugar

  • Molasses


My favorite is agave syrup. However, it really depends on the flavor profile desired.

Flavorings

Flavorings can be added to vinaigrettes to create a variety of different profiles. Some common flavorings include:

  • Herbs (fresh or dried)

  • Spices (ground or whole)

  • Citrus zest

  • Garlic

  • Onion

  • Honey

  • Maple syrup

  • Mustard

  • Worcestershire sauce

  • Sriracha or other types of hot sauces

  • Garlic

  • Sesame Oil

  • Red Pepper Flakes

  • Minced shallots

  • Cayenne

  • Harissa

Pairing Acids and Vinegars with Emulsifiers, Oils, and Flavorings

When choosing acids and vinegars for your vinaigrette, it is important to consider the other ingredients you are using. For example, if you are using an acid like lemon juice, you will want to use a mild oil like grapeseed or avocado oil to not overwhelm the lemon flavor. If you are using a vinegar like balsamic vinegar with a big flavor, you can use a stronger oil like extra-virgin olive oil.


Here are some general guidelines for pairing acids and vinegars with emulsifiers, oils, and flavorings:


  • Acids and vinegars:

    • White vinegar pairs well with Dijon mustard, olive oil, and herbs like parsley and chives.

    • Red wine vinegar pairs well with honey, olive oil, and herbs like thyme and rosemary.

    • Balsamic vinegar pairs well with maple syrup, extra-virgin olive oil, and herbs like basil and oregano.

    • Apple cider vinegar pairs well with Dijon mustard, walnut oil, and herbs like tarragon and dill.

    • Lemon juice pairs well with honey, grapeseed or avocado oil, and herbs like mint and cilantro.


  • Emulsifiers:

    • Dijon mustard pairs well with all types of acids and vinegars, as well as olive oil, avocado oil, and grapeseed oil.

    • Egg yolk pairs well with delicate acids and vinegars, such as lemon juice and white vinegar, as well as olive oil and avocado oil.

    • Honey and maple syrup pairs well with all types of acids and vinegars, as well as olive oil and grapeseed oil.

    • Xanthan gum pairs well with all types of acids and vinegars, as well as olive oil and grapeseed oil.


  • Flavorings:

    • Herbs and spices can be paired with any type of acid, vinegar, emulsifier, and oil.

    • Garlic and onion can be paired with any type of acid, vinegar, emulsifier, and oil, but they are best paired with stronger acids and vinegars, such as red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar.

    • Honey and maple syrup can be paired with any type of acid, vinegar, emulsifier, and oil.

    • Mustard can be paired with any type of acid, vinegar, emulsifier, and oil, but they are best paired with milder acids and vinegars, such as white vinegar and lemon juice.

    • Worcestershire sauce can be paired with any type of acid, vinegar, emulsifier, and oil, but it is best paired with stronger acids and vinegars, such as red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar.

    • Sriracha can be paired with any type of acid, vinegar, emulsifier, and oil, but it is best paired with milder acids and vinegars, such as white vinegar and lemon juice.


Making vinaigrettes


When making a vinaigrette, use a ratio of one part acid to two to three parts oil. I always make them in a canning jar and use my fingers as a guide. Some canning jars also have markings that you can use. With one hand grasping around the side of the jar at the bottom, I will pour in one finger width of acid and 2-3 finger widths of oil. That makes it really simple. For me, that makes about a cup of salad dressing.


I use these lids I found on amazon to prevent any metallic interaction or tastes.


For the emulsifier, I use about one teaspoon. A bit less for the sweetener. Salt, pepper and other flavorings are by taste.


When taste testing the vinaigrette, use a piece of torn lettuce. Remember that the lettuce will mute the flavors a bit. Tasted directly, it might be too sweet or too salty or both.


Very Oregano Dressing


Very Oregano salad dressing
Very Oregano salad dressing


This is the dressing I use on my chopped salad. It is reminiscent of an elevated Italian dressing. I use a crazy amount of oregano in this. Trust me, it is not a typo.




Asian Vinaigrette


This is awesome on any salad, but is also especially good on a cold noodle salad. Think soba noodles or even spaghetti with shredded rotisserie chicken, red bell pepper, cilantro, green onions, peanuts for crunch and some lightly toasted sesame seeds.


If you are using seasoned rice wine vinegar, it already contains sugar. Cut the sweetener a in half and then adjust to taste.


If you want to change this up, some ideas include:

  • Garnish your creation with some lightly toasted sesame seeds

  • Use a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter instead of miso as an emulsifier.

  • Add some freshly grated ginger.

  • Add some heat with gochujang, sriracha or other hot sauce


Also check out my lemon vinaigrette recipe in this article.

Conclusion

Vinaigrettes are a delicious and versatile salad dressing that can be customized to your liking. By following the general guidelines above, you can create vinaigrettes that are perfectly balanced and flavorful.


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