Most people reach for prepared salad dressings because on busy weeknights they just can’t handle the thought of whipping up yet something else. Because after cooking a main course and some sides and tossing together a salad, who has the time and energy to make a dressing?

I get it. It’s convenient. But homemade dressings are so much better, they really are worth the trouble. Homemade dressings not only are fresher and taste better, they also are better for you. The good news is that making dressing doesn’t have to be a daily chore. In just five minutes you can prep one big batch of dressing for the entire week.

So let’s walk through the basics of vinaigrettes.

The standard recipe for a vinegar-based dressing calls for a 3-to-1 ratio of oil to vinegar (or other acid). But really that’s just a starting point. Years ago when I was teaching a class in basic techniques, I tested the validity of that ratio by asking my students to make dressings of their own. All of them used olive oil, but each one picked a different acid.

That was an eye-opener! Three tablespoons of oil swamped rice vinegar, but barely balanced the acidity of sherry vinegar. Bottom line: The acid content in vinegars can vary widely, so you’ll want to adjust for that.

What about the oil? Mostly, I opt for good quality extra-virgin olive oil. You want to break out the good stuff because you’re really going to taste it in a dressing. But if you don’t like the taste of olive oil, you can use an oil with a more neutral flavor, such as grapeseed (though it’s pricey). Safflower and sunflower are less expensive and also are perfectly acceptable.

Nut oils are another way to go, including walnut and hazelnut, as well as two of my favorites: pistachio and pumpkinseed. They pair up very well with fruit vinegars, such as raspberry.

By the way, there’s no reason to confine vinaigrettes to the salad bar. They can perk up grilled vegetables, chicken or steak, and they partner up beautifully with fish.


Start to finish: 5 minutes

Makes 1 cup

1/4 cup acid (see choices below)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3/4 cup oil

In a 1-cup measuring cup or screw-top jar, combine the acid, salt, mustard and pepper. Whisk (or cover and shake if using a jar) until the salt is dissolved. Add the oil in a steam while whisking (or add the oil all at once and shake if using a jar). Store in the refrigerator. Let the vinaigrette come to room temperature before using.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 90 calories; 90 calories from fat (100 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 0 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 0 g protein; 260 mg sodium.

ACID SUGGESTIONS (listed frommost to least acidic):

Sherry vinegar

Red wine vinegar

Balsamic vinegar

White wine and Champagne vinegars

Cider vinegar

Rice vinegar

Raspberry vinegar

Fresh lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit juice

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting Food Network shows. She stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

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