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Water cooler: Crafting your own salad dressing a simple way to add a punch of flavor to any meal

From sweet to savory, any flavor is fair game when it comes to making a salad dressing – like Clover’s blueberry vinaigrette.  (The Spokesman-Review)
From sweet to savory, any flavor is fair game when it comes to making a salad dressing – like Clover’s blueberry vinaigrette. (The Spokesman-Review)

Store-bought salad dressings are the go-to for anyone on a mission to make a quick meal or side dish, but they aren’t always the highest quality and are hardly the most affordable option.

There isn’t anything wrong with store-bought dressings, but they often use lower-quality oils and have added sugars and preservatives. Homemade dressings are surprisingly easy to make, especially vinaigrettes that don’t require a ton of extra ingredients. Here are a few simple recipes for popular dressings that can serve as a basis for your own customizations and flavor preferences.

Classic oil and vinegar: In most restaurants if you ask for oil and vinegar for salad, you’ll likely get a canola or olive oil with a red wine vinegar. Depending on your taste for vinegar, it is common to use about a one-part vinegar to two-parts oil ratio. Red wine vinegar has that classic, punchy vibrancy from grapes and it’s a bit more robust. White wine vinegar is more delicate in flavor and has much lighter body. Apple cider vinegar is especially fruity and sweet and has less punch than red wine vinegar but more flavor than a white wine vinegar. Depending on what you are making and what you prefer, you can swap out any of these vinegars and pair them with your favorite oil. Sprinkle your dressing with a bit of salt and pepper and you have the basis for a vinaigrette.

Italian dressing: The only difference here is the addition of specific seasonings. Most Italian dressings call for olive oil and red wine vinegar. For about a cup of oil, you’d use one-half cup red wine vinegar, one or two cloves of minced garlic, and a teaspoon each of dried oregano, basil and dry or fresh parsley. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. If you’d like, you could also add some grated Parmesan cheese for a creamier dressing.

Balsamic vinaigrette: This is another dressing that can be as simple as tossing the olive oil and balsamic vinegar together, but many versions have a few classic additions. For one cup olive oil and one-half cup balsamic vinegar, most recipes call for one or two cloves of minced garlic, one tablespoon of brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste. This pairs well with almost any salad, but especially salads that incorporate fruits and berries, or your classic Greek salad.

Honey mustard: Honey mustard can mean a thousand things, but in terms of its salad dressing form, it follows a similar pattern. Use a cup of olive oil as the base oil in combination with a half cup of apple cider vinegar for the start of this sweet dressing. Add in a tablespoon of Dijon mustard for the creamy texture and robust flavor. Add one to three tablespoons of honey depending on how sweet you like the dressing. Salt and pepper to taste. This pairs well with heavy and savory salads like a chicken and bacon salad with blue cheese. It’s also popular to swap the honey for maple syrup.

Caesar dressing: The vast majority of Caesar dressings you come across are a creamy version most often using dairy products and mayonnaise. You can get a lot of similar flavors with a simpler version following the basic formats above. For a cup of olive oil, you will add one-half cup red wine vinegar, one tablespoon of lemon juice, two to three teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, depending on how robust of a flavor you prefer, one tablespoon of Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste and two or three cloves of minced garlic. For that truly classic, fishy flavor of Caesar dressing anchovy paste is a great way to get that flavor without having to handle and process a tin of anchovies. One teaspoon of paste is plenty, but adjust it to taste. Another popular addition is Parmesan cheese for extra creaminess, or avocado for an creamy vegan option.

To combine your ingredients, whisking is the perfect way to blend everything and emulsify the oil without blending it so much that it becomes thickened and separates from the rest of ingredients. For a quick clean-up option, shake the ingredients in a mason jar and then you have a jar ready for storage.

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