Eating salad without dressing is like a dinner party without guests — dull and lifeless. But with a splash of vinegar, a glug of oil and a few other ingredients, you can transform those ho-hum greens into something vibrant, fresh and delicious.

888_homemade-salad-dressing

Grilled Romaine with Balsamic Dressing from Valerie’s Home Cooking

There are two basic types of savoury salad dressing: the basic French vinaigrette, an emulsion of oil and vinegar, and creamy dressing, an emulsion of oil and egg yolks. Most (if not all) salad dressings derive from these two types.

Basic Vinaigrette

1/3 balsamic vinegar
2/3 olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
salt, pepper and sugar to taste

You can substitute or use a combination of red wine, tarragon, white and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice for the acidic base. Similarly, you can use a combination of different oils to suit your palate, and honey or maple syrup can be substituted for sugar. If you find the taste of raw garlic too strong, just rub a clove along the inside your salad bowl for a hint of garlic flavour.

Once you master the basic vinaigrette, you can experiment by adding different ingredients, from fresh herbs and grated Parmesan cheese, to Worcestershire sauce and even a dollop of ketchup. Host of French Food at Home Laura Calder adds drops of soy sauce and a pinch of beef stock powder to give her French vinaigrette an extra kick.

For best results, use good quality ingredients. Blend all the ingredients and let the mixture stand in a wooden bowl before adding greens. Over time, your wooden salad bowl will be seasoned with your favourite flavours.

Creamy Dressing

Many creamy salad dressings include mayonnaise as an ingredient. You can make mayonnaise using a whisk or even a fork, but it is very labour intensive since you need to whisk the mixture non-stop. For best results, use an electric mixer, blender or food processor. Here’s a simple mayonnaise recipe by Laura Calder:

1 egg yolk, at room temperature
pinch salt
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 cup grape seed oil (or vegetable, canola or peanut)
lemon juice, to taste
pinch white pepper

Whisk together the egg yolk, salt, mustard, and vinegar in a roomy bowl. To add the oil, start whisking the yolk mixture and let the oil fall from the spout, drop by drop, until you have achieved a thick, velvety mayonnaise. Taste it. Add lemon juice, salt, and white pepper to taste.

Homemade mayonnaise may taste strong for people accustomed to commercial mayonnaise. You can lessen the taste by adding some plain yogurt. Homemade mayonnaise will refrigerate for three to four days. Mayo can be difficult to master, as it often curdles, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

Then from this basic recipe, you can make many more creamy dressing, such as Chipotle Ranch Dressing, Citrus Aioli and Thousand Island Dressing. For the latter, just add ketchup, white vinegar, sweet pickles and seasoning.

Want more salad dressing ideas? Here are 40 salad dressing recipes to try!