How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe

Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don’t always need a recipe, you’ll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Food52’s Associate Editor Kenzi Wilbur holds vinaigrettes near and dear to her heart. This is how she makes them —for vegetables, for salads, for finger-dipping—without a recipe.

When we cook, we need vinaigrettes like we need salt.

They’re not just endlessly applicable (they are), or endlessly adaptable (they’re this, too)—they’re essential. They coat our grains, ride on the backs of our lettuce leaves—they are the arm around the shoulder of an otherwise sad carrot.

Without vinaigrette, we’d be wading in a world of plain greens and unadorned leeks and stark naked potatoes. In other words: We’d be nowhere.

Secure a whisk, ready a bowl. This is how you make a vinaigrette without a recipe.

1. In a bowl, combine everything that will be in your vinaigrette, save for the oil. You’ll need acid: I like lemon, or sherry vinegar. You’ll need help emulsifying: Reach for mustard, Dijon or otherwise. And then you get to play: I add a slip of maple syrup and about a tablespoon of chopped shallot, but feel free to go wild; the vinaigrette is your canvas. Now is the time to add spices (Cumin? Piment d’espelette? Curry?), salt and pepper, and all manner of fresh citrus juices or herbs.

A note about ratios: I like my vinaigrettes to be close to 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil—this is somewhat standard. If you like a tart dressing, go closer to 1 to 2. The rest should be to taste, but for around a cup of dressing, I usually add a heaping teaspoon of mustard and the same of maple syrup or honey, and scant pinches of whatever spices I’m using.

2. Whisk in your oil. Slowly. Can you successfully dress your food without emulsifying? Yes, you can. But if you take the time to emulsify, your dressing will have new life. It will be thick, velvety; it will coat your salads with vigor instead of falling, weak and lifeless, to the bottom of the bowl. If you’re doing this in a jar, just shake like the dickens.

Now go forth and dress everything in sight. Store the leftovers in the fridge, and do the same tomorrow.