These days, it's rare that I rely on a recipe when I want to make homemade salad dressing. Using only a simple formula that I've committed to memory, I'm usually able to whip up a vinaigrette that's perfect for whatever I'm cooking and uses whatever I happen to have in my pantry.
Thanks to all the times I've put this super easy formula into practice, I now know exactly which ingredients to rely on (and how much of them to use) to create a great homemade salad dressing every time. For example, if I'm feeling like an Asian-style sauce for a grain bowl with roasted veggies, I'll reach for rice vinegar, miso, and sesame oil, and I know just how much of each ingredient to use to make a well-balanced, fully incorporated dressing that doesn't end up separating.
With this chef-approved method, you can make outstanding homemade salad dressing without ever cracking a cookbook. Commit it to memory and you'll be amazed by how much more delicious all of your salads become.
Every salad dressing needs a fat source, an acid source, and something to bind them together.
If you only use oil and vinegar in a salad dressing, you'll probably notice that the two never fully combine. "Oil doesn’t mix with water and for the most basic vinaigrette, you’ll notice that as much as you mix it up, the oil and vinegar eventually separate into layers again," Maxine Yeung, R.D., trained pastry chef, and owner of The Wellness Whisk, tells SELF.
That's because there's a third ingredient, an emulsifier, that you need to bring the oil and vinegar together. "An emulsifier coats the oil molecules and makes it easier for the oil and vinegar—which is water-based—to mix together," Yeung explains. Plus, it creates a dressing that's thicker and will adhere to your salad more evenly.
Emulsifiers include ingredients such as honey, mayonnaise, and mustard that all happen to be the kinds of things you'd want to put in a salad dressing anyway, Bill Williamson, executive chef of BLT Prime by David Burke in Washington, D.C., tells SELF. Things like tomato paste, tahini, miso, and egg yolks also fall into the emulsifier category.
In general, use a ratio of three parts oil to one part vinegar, plus a small amount of an emulsifier. Add other ingredients to taste from there.
For a perfect dressing, Williamson says you should use three parts oil to one part vinegar along with a little emulsifier, which can be anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon depending on the quantity of dressing you're making.
Yeung says you can use seasonings and other ingredients (like chopped garlic or shallot) in whatever quantity you want. "The amount of seasonings are really up to your preferences and how cohesive and flavorful you want the dressing to be."
Start with a small amount of olive oil and vinegar. From there, be as experimental as you like, Jessica Swift, R.D. and chef, tells SELF. That way, if you end up not liking the way it tastes, you will only have to throw away a bit instead of a whole bowl of salad dressing.
To prove that this formula is up to snuff, I used it to create three quick vinaigrettes off the cuff for this story.
Without even glancing at a recipe, I followed the standard ratio to create three of my own quickie salad dressings, and they turned out to be just as good as I had hoped. I only had olive oil available to me when I made them, but you can use whatever you prefer. Yeung enjoys avocado oil; sesame and flaxseed oils are good options too. Ditto acid sources—you can use white wine, red wine, apple cider, or rice vinegar, any kind of citrus juice, or anything else you can think of that's acidic.
The first was a basic balsamic vinaigrette.
I combined 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, as well as 1 teaspoon of mustard, and a dash of thyme. I quickly whisked it together with a fork and within a minute it became thick and rich. I could easily see this one also making a great dip for raw or roasted veggies.
Then, I made a honey-mustard dressing.
For this one, I used 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of mustard, and 1 teaspoon of honey, plus salt and pepper to taste.
I finished with a tahini-lemon dressing.
To make it, I used 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon of tahini, and a bit of salt and pepper. Nutty, fluffy, and creamy, this one would be perfect in a Mediterranean-style grain bowl.