Bonus: Your salads will taste better than they ever have.

Does the door of your refrigerator currently house a multitude of partially-used bottles of salad dressing? Are most of them expired, not to mention a little sticky? I think I have a really simple way to help you clean out that whole shelf, as well as have exponentially better salads.

Now I realize that, for some reason, many people think that making a vinaigrette is as daunting as a souffle. Chefs start tossing around words like emulsion and suspension, and (understandably) people panic. But I promise you, making a basic vinaigrette is one of the simplest kitchen tasks there is. And once you do it a few times, you can start playing around with all sorts of different flavors. 

vinaigrette pouring into spoon

A vinaigrette, at its most basic, is nothing more than a fat and an acid, shaken up so that they form one, homogenous liquid. That’s where the word “emulsion” comes into play. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Even if the oil and acid don’t stay emulsified, your salad dressing will still taste wonderful. As a matter of fact, I frequently just drizzle a little olive oil on my salad, followed by some vinegar and salt, and then toss the greens. It’s delicious.

The French have decided that the perfect ratio for a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. For my personal taste, that’s a little too oily — but it’s totally up to you. My simple system is: In a small screw-top jar, place vinegar and a pinch of salt; cover and shake (this helps to dissolve the salt). Then, add olive oil, and shake again. Done. If it separates before you dress your salad (at the last minute, please) just give it another shake. This is truly a 2-3 minute process. And the resulting dressing is head and shoulders better than the bottled stuff from the supermarket.

And now that you’ve mastered that really, really difficult basic recipe… it’s play time. Next round, add some Italian dried herbs, or some Dijon mustard, or minced shallots. Try adding mayo, or minced fresh herbs, or citrus zest, buttermilk, or even sour cream. Lemon juice in addition to the vinegar of your choice can add even more flavor complexity. And truly, any spices or spice blends you think might taste good on a salad are welcome in your vinaigrette. You can even play around with the fats you use. (Trust me  — you haven’t lived until you've tasted a warm vinaigrette made with chicken fat to dress a salad sitting underneath a roast chicken!)  

At this point, you are only limited by your imagination. And I think, once you realize how easy this is, your imagination will not set any limits on you. Your salads, and the people you serve them to, will thank you. Bonus: You’ll have a LOT more room in your fridge.