The best thing about a vinaigrette is its versatility. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want, but can also be adapted to complement any salad you can think of. That’s why you’ll always find at least one – homemade, of course – in our refrigerator.
So if you too want to become a bonafide salad master, keep reading for everything you need to know about making the perfect vinaigrette for any occasion.
Traditional vinegar to oil ratio for vinaigrette
For a traditional vinaigrette, you’ll need to mix about 3 tablespoons of oil to 1 tablespoon of vinegar. You’ll also want to add some salt and pepper to taste. Of course, for all four ingredients, the better the quality you use, the better your vinaigrette will taste.
A standard vinaigrette uses extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar, but you can abide by the same ratio even if you’d rather adapt the flavour by using a more neutral-tasting oil or a different type of vinegar. Read on to learn more about using different oils and vinegars.
Using different oils
As well as olive oil, you can use pretty much any other oil that stays liquid at room temperature (so not coconut oil) for a vinaigrette. In general, light and neutral-flavoured oils like safflower, canola, soybean, or sunflower oils are your safest bet, and that includes anything labeled a vegetable oil or salad oil.
But don’t let that put you off experimenting with more distinctive flavours. After all, traditional vinaigrettes use olive oil, which has quite a strong taste. Walnut, avocado, and mustard oils are examples of distinctive-tasting oils that also work well.
Naturally, what type of vinaigrette you like best will also depend on what kind of salad you’re dressing. For instance, East Asian-style salads will call for something like a sesame oil and rice vinegar vinaigrette. See the examples below for further inspiration.
Other ingredients and substitutes for vinaigrette
There is a lot of room for playful experimentation when it comes to vinaigrettes. You can enhance them with citrus juices, such as lemon juice, herbs, and even Worcestershire sauce.
Here are some other variations you can try:
Simply use balsamic as your vinegar. Adding a sweetener like sugar, honey or maple syrup will help balance the extra acidity. Both white and dark balsamic will work, but the taste of the latter will be a lot sharper.
Citrus vinaigrette (lime, orange, or lemon vinaigrette)
Substitute half of the vinegar in your vinaigrette for any citrus juice (for example, ½ tablespoon of juice and ½ tablespoon of vinegar to every 3 tablespoons of oil). Lemon is frequently used in traditional vinaigrettes, but consider what you’ll be dressing with it. Lime will work wonders on Mexican and East-Asian salads, while any fennel salad can be immediately enhanced with a hint of orange.
Adding Dijon mustard to your vinaigrette not only adds flavour, but also acts as an emulsifier. That means a thicker dressing. Add just half a teaspoon or so to the balsamic vinaigrette above or any other vinaigrette that uses a little lemon juice.
Spruce up any vinaigrette by throwing in some chopped fresh herbs. Dried herbs also work, but you’ll want to use about a third of the amount. Try parsley, dill, mint or thyme for starters. Basil and cilantro also work well for some salads.
It’s as simple as adding some minced ginger. This works especially well with a lime or orange vinaigrette.
Want a vinaigrette that packs a punch? Just add some minced garlic to taste. A pinch of garlic powder can also work wonders.
You can even make a vinaigrette without the oil. You really just need another high-fat ingredient instead. Try one of the following oil-free vinaigrettes instead:
Using yoghurt instead of oil is a great way to make a healthier version of a ranch or Caesar dressing. You can use pretty much any yoghurt you like, but a creamy full-fat one will give you the best flavour and viscosity.
Blue cheese vinaigrette
Or you can make your vinaigrette extra decadent by using blue cheese instead of oil. The creamier and crumblier the blue cheese the better. It might take a little longer to whisk to a satisfying viscosity (or just use a food processor), but it’s well worth it if your salad includes sharp flavours like radishes or radicchio.
We’re back on the healthy vibes now, because we all know the fats in avocados are just about the best possible fats for you. Blend them down to a paste and you’ve got the perfect oil substitute for a guacamole-style vinaigrette. It goes without saying that a touch of lime and coriander takes this one to the next level.
Using tahini and a few choice spices (cumin, coriander and/or sumac) should be your go-to dressing for Middle Eastern-style salads. In this case, it’s acceptable to replace the vinegar entirely with lemon juice. Is it still acceptable to call it a vinaigrette at this point though? Best not to overthink it. Just enjoy.
How to whisk vinaigrette
To whisk together a vinaigrette, first, make sure you have the ratios right. To recap: 1 tablespoon of vinegar to every 3 tablespoons of oil, plus salt and pepper to taste.
Secondly, there’s no real secret to whisking a vinaigrette, but there is a handy tip you may have overlooked. Sure, you could whisk it in a bowl, as you’d expect, but you’ll get the same results just shaking it up in an air-tight bottle or mason jar for a few seconds.
Finally, unless you use an emulsifier (like mustard), your vinaigrette will begin to separate shortly after you mix it. Don’t have a hernia trying to whisk it to the point that it won’t split. You will lose that battle. Just shake it up quickly before each use.