If there's one thing every home cook should learn how to make it's a simple vinaigrette dressing. Not only are they incredibly easy to whip up, but they're also made with only a handful of ingredients you likely already have in your kitchen.
Homemade vinaigrettes have been a weekly kitchen staple in our home for years and once you learn how easy they are to make, I know they'll become a must-have condiment for you, too.
What Exactly is a Vinaigrette?
A vinaigrette is a simple dressing made with oil and vinegar.
Olive oil and vinegar-based dressings add lightness, a punch of flavor, and a dose of heart-healthy fats to your meals. Dress up any type of salad, pasta, vegetables, or use as a marinade for proteins.
Why You Should Make Your Own Vinaigrette
If you go look at the store-bought salad dressing ingredients in your fridge, these are some of the things you'll find:
- they’re loaded with inflammatory oils like soybean or canola
- they have added sugars (often disguised in names you don’t recognize)
- they contain additives (something added to make the product last much longer than it typically would)
- many have dairy (when there's no need to)
The majority of store-bought dressings have a long list of ingredients even if the label on the front makes it sound plain and simple.
When you make your own dressings, there’s no second-guessing when it comes to ingredients. And you'll be amazed at how fresh and flavorful they taste.
Vinaigrette Ratios, Ingredients, & Seasonings
For a classic vinaigrette, the ratio of oil to vinegar is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. In a recipe, this would look something like ¾ cup oil to ¼ cup vinegar.
Some prefer to use less oil and use a 2 part oil to 1 part vinegar ratio which would look something like ½ cup oil to ¼ cup vinegar.
To determine which ratio you like best, make one with the three parts to one part ratio and another with the two parts to one part ratio and compare which flavor you prefer.
Simple Vinaigrette Ingredients
- extra virgin olive oil. This oil is best for vinaigrettes. It's full of healthy fats and is a flavorful base to build upon.
- vinegar of choice. It won't be a vinaigrette without vinegar. Depending on what you're making will determine which vinegar you choose.
- dijon mustard (optional). Mustard is a natural emulsifier and helps bind your vinaigrette together. It also adds tang.
- sweetener (optional). This will depend on what type of vinaigrette you're making, but sometimes just a small squeeze of honey or maple syrup is a nice addition to balance out the flavors.
- extra seasonings (optional). Extra spices are an easy way to add more flavor.
- salt and pepper, to taste. Always season with salt and pepper.
Seasoning Your Vinaigrette
Just adding salt and pepper to your oil and vinegar will give it a balanced flavor, but since oil and vinegar don’t mix on their own, many vinaigrettes have dijon mustard to emulsify the dressing.
Emulsifiers help to combine the oil and vinegar, so they don’t separate. to add more depth, you can add a variety of things such as:
- mustard - also adds depth of flavor, so it's a multi-purpose ingredient
- fresh or dried herbs - add add brightness and a fresh element
- minced alliums like garlic or shallot - add a sharp, umami flavor
- honey or maple syrup - the sweetener helps round out the strong acidic flavor from the vinegar and the extra seasonings (whether fresh or dried). Honey and maple syrup can also help emulsify a dressing.
Choosing Your Oil
When choosing the oil for the base of your vinaigrette, it’s important to choose something you like. Seems pretty simple, right?
I find extra virgin olive oil to be the best flavor to build on, but you can also use avocado oil or another neutral-tasting oil of your choice.
I don’t recommend using a strong-tasting oil such as toasted sesame oil or other nut oils as the base since they can be quite overpowering. If you were making a dressing to go with an Asian dish, you could use a small amount of sesame oil as an add-on for building flavor.
Choosing Your Vinegar
So now that you have a good idea of what oil you're going to use, you want to choose a vinegar.
Several kinds of vinegar work well in vinaigrettes, but the type of vinegar you choose will largely depend on what type of food you're planning to use your vinaigrette on.
My go-to vinegars for vinaigrettes are typically
- apple cider vinegar (raw & unfiltered) for its tangy and mildly sweet flavor, especially in this poppyseed dressing
- balsamic vinegar for its slightly sweet, yet bold flavor and its ability to work equally well with both fruits and vegetables like in this roasted beet and prosciutto salad
- red wine vinegar for its tangy and sharp flavor that's perfect in Greek or Italian dishes such as Italian pasta salad, marinated portobello mushrooms, and Southwest Quinoa Salad
- rice wine vinegar (also called rice vinegar) for its mild flavor that works incredibly well in this spicy Asian cucumber salad and in peanut sauce with noodles
- white wine vinegar for its mellow, soft flavor that works beautifully in everything from coleslaw to pickled vegetables to salad dressings
Other vinegars to use:
- champagne vinegar is comparable to white wine vinegar and can be used interchangeably
- sherry vinegar, which has a complex, savory flavor that's not as sharp as red wine vinegar
Avoid using distilled white vinegar. It has a harsh taste and often overpowers the other ingredients making the dressing taste unpleasant.
Equipment Needed for Mixing Vinaigrette
There are three ways you can mix vinaigrettes.
Mason Jar Method
- To keep it really simple and for minimal cleanup, add all the ingredients to a mason or glass jar, seal it with a lid and vigorously shake until everything is well combined.
- Why this method works: you don't have to dirty up any extra dishes and it's already in a storage container.
- To a large bowl, add all the ingredients and whisk until well combined.
- When this method is best: if it has a mustard or something to emulsify the dressing, otherwise, it tends to separate pretty quickly.
- Helpful tip: Use a wire whisk instead of a silicone whisk. Metal works exponentially better.
- You can either use a blender or an immersion blender to achieve ultra-creamy results.
- Why this method works best: This method yields the creamiest results, which I believe is well worth a couple of extra dishes.
How to Store Vinaigrette
So, how long will your homemade vinaigrette last? Here's what you need to know.
- If you've used fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice or shallots, store in the fridge for up to one week. Otherwise, store it in the fridge for up to 2-3 weeks.
Helpful tip: If your oil starts to solidify a little once it's been refrigerated, give it a stir and let it come to room temperature before using. You can also run warm water over the jar or add the jar to a shallow bowl with warm water to loosen it up. Shake or stir to combine again before using.
More Helpful Cooking Tips
- How to Make Tomato Confit
- How to Make Quick Pickled Vegetables
- How to Make Caramelized Onions
- How to Make Cashew Ricotta Cheese
Simple Vinaigrette Dressing (3 Variations)
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon raw honey
- ½ teaspoon salt, to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon white (or black) pepper, to taste
Everyday Simple Vinaigrette
Simple Dill Vinaigrette (use the everyday vinaigrette, plus..)
- 1 tablespoon fresh herbs (dill, mint, basil, etc.), minced
- Add all ingredients to a blender, mason jar with a tightly sealed lid, or small bowl and blend, shake or whisk until well combined.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.
- If using fresh ingredients such as shallots, fresh herbs, or lemon juice, store in the fridge for up to one week.
- Once refrigerated, some separation may occur, so shake or stir to combine before using.
- The balsamic uses the 3:1 ratio whereas the everyday simple vinaigrette uses the 2:1 ratio.