Bottled salad dressings work in a pinch, but they tend to be loaded with extra sugar and salt. This is especially true for “light” or “reduced fat” dressings. Because the fat is removed, more sugar is added to improve the salad dressing flavor. This is the perfect example of why “light” isn’t always better.
For a cleaner approach to salad dressing, try making a vinaigrette yourself. Even without the extra sugar and salt, a homemade vinaigrette tends to have a bolder flavor if you start with fresh, quality ingredients. Plus, you can personalize your vinaigrette to your tastes by playing with the recipe and adding fun spices or aromatics!
For a DIY dressing, remember these three components: oil, acid, and an emulsifier.
Oil: Your best choice for a flavorful and heart-healthy homemade vinaigrette is extra virgin olive oil. This oil is known for being a healthy fat, so a little in your diet has its perks. You want to pick “virgin” or “extra virgin” because these versions are less processed and have a stronger flavor than plain olive oil.
Acid: Your acid could be either citrus or vinegar. Fresh lemon juice is a common choice, but other types of citrus, like blood oranges or grapefruits, can also make an exciting salad! When it comes to vinegar, choose wisely. Plain white vinegar, for example, will probably not make the best homemade vinaigrette. Most chefs stick to red or white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinegar. And know this: You don’t need to buy top-shelf vinegars, but you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to this ingredient.
Emulsifier: An “emulsifier” means an ingredient that helps marry two opposing ingredients—oil and acid, in the case of vinaigrettes. This process involves a whole lot of chemistry, but here’s the short version: An emulsifier has properties that jive with both oil and water, so it helps bind the two together. Common emulsifiers are dijon mustard, egg yolks, minced or roasted garlic, and honey.
To make a homemade vinaigrette, whisk together the emulsifier and acid. Once the two are thoroughly combined, add just a touch of oil and whisk again. Once it’s incorporated, you can add a little more. (If you add it all at once, your vinaigrette will separate into layers of oil and vinegar—yuck!)
The last step in making your vinaigrette is to season it with salt and pepper. You can get creative here, too: Try adding finely chopped herbs, grated parmesan, crushed red pepper flakes, or minced shallot!