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If you’ve never made homemade vinaigrette, I’m here to tell you it’s about as easy as making toast, and once you make it a few times, I bet you won’t even need the help of a recipe. All you need to know are the essential ingredients and basic proportions. I almost always have a bottle or jar of this Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette in my fridge, and on days I don’t, I take a few minutes to whip up a batch before dinner.
Knowing how to make balsamic vinaigrette is probably something I take for granted. It’s one of those things that is just second nature to me since I’ve been making my own for so long. I am reminded of it almost every time my mother visits and we inevitably have a green salad with dinner. Topped off, of course, with this Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette. She almost always comments about how much she likes the dressing and that she needs to learn how to make it sometime.
Well, here you go, Mom (and anyone else who has always wanted to learn how to quickly make homemade vinaigrette)…
Before I share the recipe, I must talk about the two main ingredients in the vinaigrette because they make a big impact on the flavor of the vinaigrette.
How to Choose Balsamic Vinegar
The key to making a yummy vinaigrette is to use the best quality vinegar and oil that you can. Higher quality balsamic vinegar tastes less sharp and has a fuller, richer flavor, which can make a difference in the vinaigrette. Using a lower quality vinegar can make the vinaigrette taste sharp and give it a bite, which would require you to add a sweetener to cover that up and smooth it out.
Choosing a good balsamic vinegar can be as complex as choosing a good bottle of wine. Although there’s no alcohol in balsamic vinegar, the process of making the vinegar is somewhat similar to making wine. True balsamic vinegar is made in Reggio Emilia and Modena, Italy, using grapes grown in those regions. Buying this type of balsamic vinegar is not for people who use their vinegar to make salad dressings and sauces because it’s very expensive (potentially hundreds of dollars for an ounce or two – yikes!), and because mixing it with other ingredients would be an insult to a vinegar of this quality.
My parents and brother had the opportunity to tour a balsamic vinegar facility in this region of Italy, and my brother ended up buying a bottle of high quality vinegar that cost around $40 for just a couple of ounces. He was told to add just a drop or two to the top of whatever he wanted to serve it with (as a finish for meat, on a shortbread for dessert, or over roasted veggies) because a little goes a long way with a vinegar of such high quality. Since he lives in Germany, I haven’t had the chance to try it yet…or maybe he’s just hoarding it all for himself. Ha, Ha!
If a $40 for a tiny bottle of vinegar means it’s too good to make into vinaigrette, does that mean I should buy the 16 ounce bottle for $3 and call it good? Not so fast…As I said above, going too cheap on the vinegar can result in a sharp, cloying vinaigrette that you will likely have to add sweetener to in order to make it palatable. Plus, some of the lower quality vinegars contain additives that make it less healthful.
Luckily for us, Italy has set up standards for labeling bottles of balsamic vinegar. It comes in handy to know one such standard when it comes to choosing the best vinegar for your cooking needs. The designation I look for when choosing a good bottle of vinegar for making vinaigrette (or other sauces) is “IGP”, which is the standard set for vinegar that’s made from grapes traditionally used for balsamic vinegar (though they can be grown outside of the Modena region) AND that’s processed/made in the Modena region. It’s very easy to find balsamic vinegar with this designation here in the states. Below are photos of two brands that I like to buy.
By the way, balsamic vinegar lasts almost indefinitely so it’s okay to buy a larger bottle if it’s a better value.
How to Choose Olive Oil
As with the balsamic vinegar, choosing a good quality olive oil to use in this Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette can make a big difference in the final flavor. With olive oil, there are some differences I want to explain a bit more. Olive oil is made from extracting the oil from olives. Sounds straightforward, however, when you look at all the different olive oil bottles on the store shelf, it can be confusing if you don’t understand the basic process of making olive oil. Here are the steps (although it can vary among manufacturers), without all the technical details:
- Cleaning the olives (and removing any leaves/small branches that may have come off the tree with the olives
- Grinding/crushing – the olives are ground/crushed into a paste
- Mixing – the paste is mixed to help start the process of oil separation
- Separation – the oil is separated from the olive solids and water. There are several techniques to accomplish the separation; each manufacturer uses the method they prefer.
- Filtration (which is optional) – filtration may increase the shelf life of the oil, however, whether an oil is filtered or not does not indicate whether it’s a higher quality oil. Filtered oil typically looks more vibrant and clear, although it can still appear slightly cloudy.
- After these steps are complete, the oil is considered “extra-virgin” or “virgin” olive oil.
- Refining – Some manufacturers will further refine the “extra-virgin” or “virgin” oil at this point, using one or more of several available methods.
- Olive oil that is labeled as “pure olive oil”, “olive oil”, or “light olive oil” indicates that it has been refined. Refined olive oil can be used for cooking because it can handle a higher heat level, but it does not contain as many of the naturally occurring enzymes and phytonutrients that make extra-virgin olive oil so healthy. By the way, “light olive oil” does not mean it’s lower in calories or fat – it simply indicates that the oil is “lighter” in flavor.
BOTTOM LINE: If you are going to heat olive oil, go for a refined olive oil, and if you are using olive oil purely for its robust flavor (without heating it), use extra-virgin olive oil.
ONE MORE THING…make sure your oil (whether you’re going to heat it or not) is not rancid. No matter how good of quality your oil was to start, once it turns rancid, it will ruin anything you add it to. How do you tell if your oil is rancid? Take a good long smell of it…if it smells like olive oil, then you’re good to go. If it smells a bit like paint thinner, on the other hand, it’s rancid and you should throw it out.
Because extra-virgin olive oil does not have as long of a shelf life as a refined olive oil, don’t buy a huge bottle because it works out to be a better “deal”. Buy only as much as you will reasonably use within a month or two. Here is one brand of extra-virgin olive oil I really like:
Enough oil and vinegar talk…let’s get to the Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette recipe itself!
Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe How-To Photos:
To make my vinaigrette easily, I use either a glass screw-top jar like this one below, or (most often), the bottle in the next photo…
I love this bottle, made by Oxo. It’s super convenient to use and the vinaigrette pours onto salads really easily.
Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and salt. Add the lid and shake vigorously to combine.
That’s all you have to do. I’ve listed some optional ingredients to the recipe that you can add to your vinaigrette to make it even more flavorful.
Serve over your favorite salad. It also works great for marinating meat.
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or spicy brown mustard
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley
- 1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, oregano, or rosemary
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ to 1 teaspoon honey or pure maple syrup (try NOT to add this if you don’t have to)
- 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- In a medium size screw-top jar or Oxo Good Grips Salad Dressing Shaker, combine oil, vinegar, mustard, and salt. If desired, add any or all of the optional ingredients you would like. Add lid to jar or dressing shaker. Shake until well combined.
- Store unused dressing in the screw-top jar or dressing shaker up to 1 week. The oil may solidify the longer it is in the refrigerator. Let the dressing stand at room temperature about 30 minutes before serving if this happens; shake well before serving.
- 18 servings (1 tablespoon per serving)
- 80 cals, 0 g pro, 2 g carb, 8 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g sat fat, 0 g fiber, 61 mg sodium