Classic Vinaigrette


  • Extra virgin olive oil (or other vegetable or nut oil)
  • Vinegar (such as balsamic, white wine, red wine or rice wine)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper


  1. The basic rule of thumb when making vinaigrette is to use one part vinegar to 3 – 4 parts oil.
  2. Add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper to vinegar and whisk together.
  3. Slowly whisk in olive oil until combined.
  4. Without an emulsifying agent (such as honey or mustard – see variations below) the vinegar and oil will naturally separate, so you may want to quickly remix just before serving.  I find that using a small jar for mixing ingredients works very nicely.

Ingredients to add for variation:

  • Vary the vinegar and oils to suit your mood and salad ingredients. This is the moment to grab the best quality you have on the shelf. Nut oils like walnut or hazelnut go well with assertive greens and strong flavored ingredients.  Sherry vinegar and champagne vinegar are versatile and beloved classics.  Balsamic vinegar offers deep flavor — at once sweet and acidic. We’re fortunate to have olive oil country close-by.  Two of my favorites:  Sciabica and California Olive Ranch.  I was surprised to spot California Olive Ranch at Safeway recently, and Gene’s Fine Foods in Saratoga carries Sciabaca (look for the Marsala brand green tin).  Sciabica also has a regular booth at the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market in San Francisco (worth a special trip on a Saturday morning).
  • Citrus juice of all sorts – orange adds a nice sweetness while grapefruit is tart-sweet.  Lemon or lime juice can be substituted for some or all of the vinegar.  Since lemon/lime is less acidic than vinegar you might want to make the proportions between oil and juice slightly more even than if you were using just vinegar.
  • Dijon mustard adds a nice bite and also allows for emulsification of the oil and vinegar.  Add a little bit to start, taste and add more if you like. A little mustard goes a long way.
  • Herbs of all sorts, fresh or dried.  Each one gives a distinct character to the dressing.  Commonly used herbs include thyme, oregano, basil, tarragon, marjoram, but others would be nice too.
  • Spices in combination with other ingredients add ethnic character, for instance cumin with lime (Mexican), and curry powder or garam masala with ginger (Indian).  Minced ginger, minced green onion, rice wine vinegar and a little sesame oil create dressing with an Asian twist.
  • Minced garlic, shallots and onions add flavor – just a little is necessary.
  • Honey offers sweetness and also acts as an emulsifier.  Great on a salad with fruit elements.
  • Fruit juice, fruit vinegars and mashed fruit (such as berries) add sweetness and fruity flavor.
  • Yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise, crème fraiche and mashed avocado lend creamy richness.
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