There are lots of bottled salad dressings on the market, but making your own can be simple and satisfying. A basic vinaigrette can be infinitely fiddled with so that an Italian version becomes more Asian, or a mustard-tinged dressing can become more spicy by substituting creamy wasabi.
The type of oil and vinegar can also make a difference. Olive oil has more flavor than vegetable oil — and is not always a good pairing with Asian ingredients. If you want to use sesame, avocado or nut oils, use them sparingly, not as the main oil, but just enough to lend flavor or they will become overwhelming. Vinegars can range from red or white wine, apple cider, champagne or balsamic, the contemporary kitchen workhorse. Citrus juice is another way to add the needed acid to the mix.
Master a basic vinaigrette and you'll have a formula fit for dozens of variations. The main ratio is 4 (or 3) to 1 meaning 4 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. To that combination, flavorings such as garlic, soy sauce, mustard, honey or herbs are added.
The simplest vinaigrette is 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard plus kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Make it in the bottom of the serving bowl and you'll have enough dressing for salad for two.
Here are some vinaigrette variations:
• Herb vinaigrette: 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons or more freshly squeezed lemon juice or good wine vinegar, 1/4 cup minced tender, milder herbs like parsley, basil or dill, 1 teaspoon minced stronger, tough herbs like rosemary, tarragon or thyme.
• Creamy vinaigrette: 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons or more good white wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons fresh or sour cream, yogurt, mayonnaise or pureed soft tofu, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and 1 small, chopped shallot.
• Garlic Vinaigrette: 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons or more balsamic vinegar, 1 minced clove garlic, 1 tablespoon honey.
• Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette: 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons or more good wine vinegar, 1/4 cup seeded and chopped tomato, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves.
• Raspberry Vinaigrette: 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup raspberry wine vinegar, 1/2 cup white sugar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper.
• Blue Cheese Vinaigrette: 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Combine oil and blue cheese in small bowl. Mash blue cheese into oil. Whisk in vinegar, garlic salt and ground black pepper.
Sources: Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" (Wiley, 2008) and Allrecipes.com