Package-Free Salad Dressing
As CalRecycle’s Executive Fellow, I have learned the intimate details of waste management in California and have seen firsthand what our discarded waste looks like at material recovery facilities (MRFs) across the state. I know that Californians produced 76.5 million tons of waste in 2016. But standing on the floor of a MRF and seeing the trucks unload tons of material was honestly alarming to witness. I have made it my mission to reduce my consumption of packaging, which accounts for a quarter of the waste generated in California. As a former chef, food packaging is an easy place for me to start cutting back on my own waste generation.
Salad dressing is commonly sold in packaging at the grocery store, but here’s the secret: it is shockingly easy to make at home, and so much cheaper than purchasing it in the store. Making your own salad dressing eliminates the purchasing of packaging, plus, when you make it at home you have complete control over the ingredients.
As a former restaurant cook, I know that cooking is all about ratios, and the best example of that is a vinaigrette salad dressing recipe. The basic ratio formula for a vinaigrette dressing is 1 part vinegar or acid to 3 or 4 parts oil.
Choosing your oil
While you could use any cooking oil you like, a neutral tasting oil is your best bet for a vinaigrette dressing. You do not want to overwhelm the other flavors in your salad. I usually opt for half extra virgin olive oil (a stronger-tasting oil) with half regular olive oil, canola, or vegetable oil (neutral-tasting oils).
Choosing your vinegar or acid
Pick any tasty vinegar you like. My favorites to use in salad dressings are rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar. I would advise not using distilled plain white vinegar as the flavor is too harsh for dressing. I also substitute lemon or lime for acid in place of vinegar in a pinch.
Choosing your seasonings
Salt and pepper are essential, but I also like adding fresh herbs: cilantro, parsley, and basil are my favorites. Dry herbs work beautifully as well. Mustard is a great addition for a little tang, and I also enjoy some maple syrup or agave for a little sweetness. Garlic or shallot are nice if you mince them into small enough pieces or make your vinaigrette in a blender or food processor.
Making your vinaigrette dressing
Oil and vinegar must be emulsified together in order to evenly coat your salad, and there are a number of ways to accomplish this.
My favorite is simply pouring all my ingredients in a jar, covering the jar with a lid, and shaking vigorously until they are combined.
If you’re serving a crowd, you could simply combine all your vinaigrette dressing ingredients in a bowl, whisk together, and then add all your salad right on top of it, toss, and serve.
You could also use a blender or food processor to make your dressing. Simply combine your ingredients except the oil, turn the blender on, and slowly add the oil as the machine is running.
Homemade vinaigrette dressing is easy and versatile, and when you get the hang of it and discover your preferences, you barely need a recipe.
Here is one of my favorite vinaigrette dressings:
Red Wine Vinaigrette (Makes ¾ Cup of Dressing)
- 3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup canola or other neutral oil
- 1-2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- ½ of a small shallot, finely minced
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh oregano, basil, or parsley (dried Italian seasoning or oregano works great too)
- 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: honey or agave to sweeten, to taste
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl or jar. If using a food processor or blender, add all ingredients except the oils
- Mix or stir vigorously. If using a food processor or blender, turn on the machine and slowly add the oil while the machine is running to emulsify the dressing.
- Taste and adjust your seasonings, adding salt and pepper.
- Serve and enjoy immediately or store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.