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FRESH and Festive: Homemade Vinaigrettes

Many of my friends roll their eyes when they hear me talking about making my own salad dressing. From their reaction you’d think I was churning my own goat butter!  The truth is that creating homemade vinaigrette takes all of two minutes and can be suited to any palate.

Once you have made vinaigrette at home a few times, it becomes second nature.  That is because there are only three basic ingredients necessary – oil, an acidic element, and flavorings.  Generally, you should begin with three parts oil to one part acid.  Keep in mind that tasting the dressing is key.  Depending on the oil and vinegar chosen, you might need to make minor adjustments to this ratio.  The flavorings can be as much, as little, or as intense as you would like.

In reality, most oils are fine for dressings.  My preference is extra virgin olive oil, but you can also use canola, vegetable, safflower or really any salad oil.  I also like to try more interesting oil varieties for added flavor such as walnut, hazelnut, avocado and sesame.

A vinegar such as balsamic, red or white wine, rice wine, or cider are the common acidic elements. I also am a huge fan of champagne vinegar and sherry vinegar.  Or, you can use a citrus juice in place or with vinegar.  The most popular juice to use is lemon, but lime and orange work too!

For flavoring, always add a pinch of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper.  Experiment with shallots, garlic, mustard (my favorite is Dijon), or even wasabi for a little heat.  I also really love to add in some fresh or dried herbs such as thyme, tarragon or cilantro. You can sweeten the dressing with a little sugar or honey.  Honey not only adds sweetness, but also helps to stabilize the emulsion of the vinegar and oil.

Speaking of emulsion, vinaigrettes are considered temporary emulsions because the oil and vinegar begin to separate as soon as you stop mixing or stirring.  This is in contrast to a permanent blend of vinegar and oil like mayonnaise.  The most effective way of combining the oil and the vinegar is in a blender. If you don’t have a blender, you can whisk the ingredients together in a glass or plastic bowl.  Never use an aluminum bowl as the acid in the vinegar can react and produce a metallic flavor. For best results, all your ingredients should be at room temperature. The cooler the oil, the more difficult it is to make an emulsion.

Always prepare the vinaigrette in advance and then let it sit for anywhere from one to three hours at room temperature so that the flavors can meld together.