Not Recipes

How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe

By • May 12, 2014 • 12 Comments

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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Food52's Associate Editor Kenzi Wilbur holds vinaigrettes near and dear to her heart. This is how she makes them -- for vegetables, for salads, for finger-dipping -- without a recipe.

How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe from Food52

When we cook, we need vinaigrettes like we need salt.  

They’re not just endlessly applicable (they are), or endlessly adaptable (they’re this, too) -- they’re essential. They coat our grains, ride on the backs of our lettuce leaves -- they are the arm around the shoulder of an otherwise sad carrot. 

Without vinaigrette, we’d be wading in a world of plain greens and unadorned leeks and stark naked potatoes. In other words: We’d be nowhere. 

Secure a whisk, ready a bowl. This is how you make a vinaigrette without a recipe. 

How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe

1. In a bowl, combine everything that will be in your vinaigrette, save for the oil. You’ll need acid: I like lemon, or sherry vinegar. You’ll need help emulsifying: Reach for mustard, Dijon or otherwise. And then you get to play: I add a slip of maple syrup and about a tablespoon of chopped shallot, but feel free to go wild; the vinaigrette is your canvas. Now is the time to add spices (Cumin? Piment d’espelette? Curry?), salt and pepper, and all manner of fresh citrus juices or herbs. 

A note about ratios: I like my vinaigrettes to be close to 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil -- this is somewhat standard. If you like a tart dressing, go closer to 1 to 2. The rest should be to taste, but for around a cup of dressing, I usually add a heaping teaspoon of mustard and the same of maple syrup or honey, and scant pinches of whatever spices I’m using. 

How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe from Food52

2. Whisk in your oil. Slowly. Can you successfully dress your food without emulsifying? Yes, you can. But if you take the time to emulsify, your dressing will have new life. It will be thick, velvety; it will coat your salads with vigor instead of falling, weak and lifeless, to the bottom of the bowl. If you're doing this in a jar, just shake like the dickens.

Now go forth and dress everything in sight. Store the leftovers in the fridge, and do the same tomorrow. 

How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe from Food52

We're looking for contributors! Email [email protected] and tell us the dish you could make in your sleep, without a recipe. Check out what we've already covered.

Photos by Mark Weinberg 

Tags: not recipes, vinaigrette, how-to & diy, dressing

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Comments (12)


8 months ago msgirl

I don't care for the taste of Dijon mustard in my Viniaigrette. Maybe it is an acquired taste. What is the best mustard to use? I do want to make a tasty vinaigrette.


10 months ago JudithM

I believe many Italian cooks add a few tablespoons of water to their vinaigrette. I do and like the milder flavour of the dressing. Also, I don`t think true Greek salads have vinegar as an ingredient. They often let capers and tomatoes sit together for a time, before adding the rest. The tomatoes and capers provide all the acidic flavour required!


11 months ago meg

how long does homemade vinaigrette last in the fridge?


12 months ago LauriL

I add a tad of pomegranite molasses to the above "non-recipe".


12 months ago christine cozzetta

Amazing what White Balsamic vinegar can do to a vinaigrette!


12 months ago catalinalacruz

I can't make a vinaigrette without minced garlic. And finely chopped fresh basil is nice too. For a sweet touch, add mango nectar to oil and wine vinegar. Here's one that had everyone asking for the recipe: a whole mashed avocado instead of oil, freshly squeezed orange juice, minced garlic, and salt and pepper; salad garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds.


12 months ago suzi

I too like my vinaigrette a bit tart, so I'm more of a 2-1 girl. I love to vary my vinegars since making a vinaigrette is a moody thing with me. And, I like a bit of fresh squeezed lemon juice in it as well. I use either some minced garlic, or shallot, and a dab of Dijon as well. Herbs and spices go with the mood I guess, or what I'm serving it with. I too am a "jar shaker" as it does emulsify great that way, and there's no wisk or bowl to clean up. Then the left overs go in the fridge in the same jar. I think once you get the hang of it, you'll never, ever go back to store bought with all the crap they put in it.


12 months ago Victoria Carr

I couldn't agree with you more; I can never believe anyone uses bottled dressing when it's so easy to make your own fresh vinaigrette.


12 months ago Horto

add a bit of creme fraiche


12 months ago Victoria Carr

I guess I'm one of the few people around who don't use mustard in my vinaigrette. I add the acid to the bowl and crunch in a few pieces of Maldon Salt. After this sits for a few minutes, I whisk like crazy and then dump in my very, very, very dry, cold greens. If I need help emulsifying, I either add a tiny bit of heavy cream, or very unorthodox but truly successful store-bought mayonnaise. It works like a charm. Try it.


12 months ago SBMCW

I like to finely dice Pepperdew peppers for the dressing and add a little of the sweet liquid that comes with the peppers.
I also like to dress the salad and take honey and trace a spider web of honey just before serving. It provides a bit of a surprise when you get caught in the web. It adds a certain degree of "au pif."


12 months ago Liz B. @ UMAMI LIFE

I'm with you on the "no recipe" thing, but then I always feel like a bit of a flake when a friend asks me for the recipe to a certain dish or dressing and I end up saying something vague like "you just have to FEEL OUT the white pepper..." or "you'll just know when it's right!"

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