Easy Change #2: Make Your Own Salad Dressing

This is the second installment of my new series, Easy Changes You Can Make Today. Read about it here (and tell me in the comments what you'd like to see in this series!).

Change #1 was making your own macaroni and cheese. Did you try it yet? Yesterday I made a tuna-mac version by adding 12 oz. of chunk light tuna with no additives (chunk light is lower in mercury than solid white) and a generous handful of frozen peas. It was a hit all around!

Change #2 is something we use almost every day. It saves us money, nourishes our bodies, and might be responsible for my husband becoming a salad lover!

Homemade salad dressing first entered my life in the form of my Aunt Catherine's balsamic vinaigrette. We had it when we were visiting family in California several years ago, and we were hooked immediately. My mom started making it all the time, and bottled salad dressing just kind of got phased out of our house. Her recipe is the one I've stuck with as my "go to" salad dressing, but now I've made it so many times that it's more of a rough guide for proportions than an actual recipe. It has infinite variations and is SO easy to put together.

Besides saving money and being delicious, here are a two more reasons to start making your own salad dressing:

1. Industrial oils.
When I say "industrial oils" I mean soy, canola, cottonseed, etc. This is what commercial salad dressings are made of. These oils are most often genetically modified, are processed at insanely high temperatures that have caused them to become rancid, and then they are deodorized so we can't smell or taste that they are rancid. When you make homemade salad dressing, you can use pure extra-virgin olive oil, and be confident that the fat you are consuming is good for you!

2. High Fructose Corn Syrup
Don't believe the propaganda of the corn industry: high fructose corn syrup IS harmful to your health. :( Most salad dressings contain this highly processed sweetener; those that don't surely contain more sugar than necessary, which isn't beneficial either. But when you make your own, you can use honey or pure maple syrup to lightly sweeten it. Those sweeteners actually contain some good stuff, instead of being stripped of anything that night be considered a nutrient.

Convinced yet? I could also mention preservatives, artificial flavors, and MSG (which tricks your brain into wanting more!)...but let's move on to the good stuff.

Some of you are thinking that this is going to involve strange ingredients and/or a time consuming method. Nope and nope. Here is what you need:

extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
dijon mustard
honey or pure maple syrup
salt and pepper

Nothing too weird, right? There are several optional ingredients, as well, but none of them are weird either. :)

And as for the method, all you do is put everything in a container with a tight-fitting lid (I use a small canning jar) and shake shake shake! Really, you can do this.

Become a Salad Lover Balsamic Vinaigrette
Method: Place all but olive oil in a jar and shake to blend. Add oil and shake again.

Basic recipe:
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1-3 t. dijon mustard
1 t. or more honey/pure maple syrup (to taste)
a few pinches salt
a few grinds pepper
2/3-3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

--Aunt Catherine's Original: Add 1 t. crushed thyme, 1 t. crushed rosemary, 1 clove pressed garlic, and fresh lemon juice to taste.
--Joanna's cheater version of Catherine's Original: Add 1 t. crushed thyme, 1 t. crushed rosemary, and few shakes of garlic powder (for when I don't want to crush garlic or juice a lemon).
--Creamy Honey Balsamic: Add more honey to taste and a couple T. plain yogurt.

Other options:
--Use red/white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar instead of balsamic.
--Add a tablespoon of cold-pressed flaxseed oil to boost your omega-3's.
--Try other spices such as nutmeg, basil, parsley, or ginger. Fresh basil is divine.

But what if you don't have time?
Now, if you're anything like me, there will be times when you are ready to eat dinner and you think, "Oh crap, we don't have any salad dressing!" The toddler's squealing and your stomach's growling and someone is in danger of being late for something. In this case you have a couple options:

1. Put out the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. It's not quite as tasty as the real thing, but it's better than plain lettuce!

2. Eyeball it and make the basic recipe with no extras. You'll get better at it with practice. I can do this in about a minute now if I don't measure anything. When you pour vinegar into your jar make note of how high it comes up and estimate about 2 to 3 times as much oil as vinegar (depending on how tangy you like it: more oil=less tang). A squirt of mustard, a squirt of honey, salt and pepper and you're good to go!

3. Keep in mind that it keeps for several days in the fridge, so you don't have to make it every day. But you may want to take it out of the fridge a little while before dinner, because olive oil sometimes solidifies in the fridge. If you have a big family, double or triple the recipe as needed, especially if you eat a lot of salad. If you don't eat a lot of salad, stay tuned for upcoming posts about how to eat more vegetables!

Bonus: This recipe is also delicious for dipping bread, marinating meat, dressing up bruschetta, or in pasta salad.

Have you made homemade salad dressing? What's your favorite recipe? Will it be hard for you to give up the store-bought stuff?

This is part of Fight Back Friday.


  1. oooh, i'm excited about this! i'm also looking forward to the "how to eat more vegetable" and I'm kind of hoping you'll do a post on kale... what it is, how to find it in the grocery store, etc. :) remember, some of us need to start with the very basics... i miss our cooking classes!!

  2. This is great, Joanna. Although I'm not sure I will be able to convince the hubby to try anything with the word "mustard" involved, it might be a fun option to add a little variety to our current salad dressing routine. We've actually quit buying dressings from the store in the last year and taken to a simple dressing of olive oil, salt, and pepper (a trend we picked up in St. Thomas). With a little feta or mozzarella, it's a perfect companion to spring mix or spinach salad. Brett's also gotten into the habit of adding a little applesauce on his greens these days (in addition to the olive oil). Sounds a bit strange maybe, but it's easy, simple flavor and reminds us of our time in the Caribbean... : ) (Positive emotional connection seems to be an important factor in most of our food choices...which probably explains why I continue to call my mother for HER versions of very simple things like pork chops or baked beans).

  3. Sommer, I'll definitely post about kale sometime! I miss our cooking "classes" too - but mostly I miss you!!

  4. We are an "eyeball it" family lol. I ALWAYS think "Oh crap I forgot to make salad dressing." So our regular mix is olive oil, either balsamic or raw apple cider vin, mustard, and whatever other random thing I throw in. This looks like a GREAT recipe. Glad to have it!!

  5. Yay for homemade salad dressing. This is one of those things (along with those oatmeal "packets") that I don't think people realize how easy (and much more affordable) it is to make themselves. Glad lots of people are spreading the word.

  6. Wanted to let you know I made a variation of this and posted a quick post with it in there:

  7. I make two homemade salad dressings, and they are the only salad dressings we use (they also make great marinades). One is just EV olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and dried Italian seasinings. The other is EV olive oil, garlic red wine vinegar (I cut up some garlic cloves into every bottle of red wine vinegar), and dried Italian seasoning. When I'm smart (not often enough!) I make big batches so they are ready to go all the time. Your recipe looks delicious - I will definitely give it a try.

    1. Thanks Gaye! Those sound super simple and yummy. :)