Store bought salad dressings are hit and miss in the taste category, especially if they are low fat or fat free. There are a few that I like such as Ken's Light Caesar or Light Vidalia Onion dressing. More often than not though, I make my own salad dressing, vinaigrette style. Vinegar is easy to store and does not have to be refrigerated. It's also affordable and easy to find in any grocery or specialty store. Usually I use olive oil and the type depends on the flavor I want to have. Extra virgin olive oil usually has a more pronounced fruity flavor than does olive oil or light olive oil. Oil and vinegar can be less expensive and you can easily make it fresh each time you need it. Vinaigrettes are also usually less calories per serving than creamy dressings, especially those that include mayonnaise.
A typical ratio of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1, but my palate finds that too oily. To dress lettuce salads, I like a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar (or other acid such as citrus juice). The simplest mix is vinegar with a little salt and pepper, and then whisk in the oil. I use this as my "standard" oil and vinegar dressing recipe:
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 cup oil (which is 4 tablespoons)
Place the vinegar, mustard and shallot in a small bowl. Add some salt and pepper and then whisk to combine. Whisk in the oil and then adjust the seasoning as needed.
The mustard provides flavor and helps the vinegar and oil to stay combined in an emulsion. Shallots are part of the onion family and add an aromatic background flavor to the mix. Chopped fresh herbs are also a wonderful addition to homemade vinaigrette. Parsley provides great flavor and color as do sage, tarragon, thyme, oregano and others - choose the one or two that you enjoy most.
A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of visiting Houston, Texas to meet up with several amazing, foodie chef friends. We went to many interesting stores but one of my favorites was q store in The Woodlands called Oil and Vinegar. This store sells an amazing array of flavored vinegars and oils. I prefer to buy flavored vinegars rather than oils since vinegar usually has a longer shelf life than oil. I bought date balsamic, elderberry apple lime, and passionfruit white balsamic. They all have different uses but make fabulous, fresh salad dressings for a variety of fruit salad, lettuce salad and even grilled or roasted veggies. For roasted asparagus, I often add a dressing of 1 part balsamic to 1 part olive oil, usually 1 tablespoon of each depending on the amount of asparagus I serve.
Try picking a vinegar you would like to use regularly. I like Champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar, and red wine vinegar for my "standard" vinegar choices. Enjoy making your own dressing - it's easy, fast and flavorful!