Salad + Homemade Dressing | The Simple Kitchen

Written by and Photography by Charla in The Simple Kitchen

An easy, fast and tasty idea in The Simple Kitchen is basic salad dressing. Forget everything you know about those afterthought salads with something bottled. Put aside your awkward worries about of dinner guests who devour your barbeque but barely touch your salad.

Instead, think of salad as the main attraction. When your guests eat more salad than main course, your dinner party is a success! Even serve a one-course meal of just a big salad with whatever you find laying around in the fridge. What makes it come together? The dressing. Look at the very short list of ingredients you probably already have right now. We’ll start with the basic recipe – but read on for tricks that can make it nearly fail-proof.



Basic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

2 TBSP Dijon mustard
3-4 TBSP Balsamic vinegar
4-6 TBSP Olive oil, to taste
Preparation time: 5 minutes, less if you can stir fast without making a mess

Add mustard into any container: a mixing bowl, measuring, cup, cereal bowl. Even a wine glass will do. Drizzle in vinegar while stirring with a fork or a whisk. When it reaches the consistency of a thin syrup, add extra ingredients. No extra ingredients? No problem. This is a versatile dressing that you can add just as it is onto any combination of any lettuce, vegetables, meats, cold cuts, cold rice or pasta all mixed together.

Drizzle in olive oil the same way: slowly while stirring with a fork or a whisk. There! You’ve just made instant, epic salad dressing. Taste a bit. Is it too tart or sour? Add a little more oil or start with less mustard. The oil should always be mixed in last.



Now for the fun part – adding in extra and unusual ingredients to the dressing. Try them all!

Extra Ingredients for Basic Vinaigrette

After you mix the mustard with the vinegar and before you add the olive oil, now is your chance to be creative. Now that the mustard is broken into a more creamy, liquid consistency add about 1 TBSP any of the following. Test its flavor, and add more if you think it needs it:

Honey (for a basic honey mustard dressing)
Fresh minced garlic
Minced roasted garlic
Chopped or pureed tomatoes
Pureed eggplant
Pureed sweet potatoes
Apricot or blueberry jam (trust me on this one)
Lemon, lime, orange, or blood orange juices
Carrot juice
Chopped jalapeño or serrano peppers (very spicy – use a light touch)
Canned roasted chipotle peppers (spicy and dominant flavor – use a light touch)
Chopped fresh herbs: cilantro, mint, thyme, basil, parsley, sage
Dash of cumin or smoked paprika


Experiment with it and add a few. Some combinations will surprise you at how amazing they are and other combinations, well, not so much. When in doubt, less is more.


Basic salad dressing ingredients plus some extras to add in.


Sauteed cubed pancetta for the salad – a crunchy, meaty contrast to the tart vinaigrette.



Toasted pine nuts


Instantly ready fresh minced garlic. Don’t keep this in the bathroom or you might confuse it for toothpaste.

The Olive Oil

This dressing works best with really, really high quality extra virgin olive oil. It’s okay to splurge occasionally on this one. If your olive oil comes from a unique terroir in Southern Spain, France or Italy from a tiny field with a view of the Mediterranean and plowed by the same single donkey for four generations – perfect. If it’s a white-label wine-country limited edition olive oil from California – excellent.

Other oils work just as well, and each one will contribute somehow to the final flavor of your dressing. The proof is in the pudding, so don’t be shy! Experiment on your guests.

After you’ve mixed everything with the olive oil, turn to the person next to you, wait until they put down their wine, and then offer them a piece of bread dipped in the dressing and ask, “What does it need?” You’ve made a friend for life.

The Mustard

No Dijon for you? It probably works just as well with basic hot dog mustard. I’ve never tried it, but I’ll bet the farm that it would be terrific. Try with a brown mustard, or a very grainy mustard. Try with no mustard at all for a thinner, more watery dressing.


Don’t like it?

If something doesn’t work in your dressing and you are panicking in a cold sweat as your guests pound the table for more food, don’t despair. If the dressing is too tart or puckery you may have too much mustard. Add – in tiny amounts – sugar or honey to soften it a bit. If it is too spicy, add pureed tomatoes, milk or yogurt. Too salty? That is a tough one – add more of every ingredient (except salt) or start over. In fact, the quantities of the basic dressing as small enough that hopefully you could just start over at any point.

Saving Leftovers

Chop last night’s leftovers, mix it with fresh lettuce and veggies, and serve. Try it again the next night, but with a different extra ingredient. Leftover rice or pasta? Chop it into bite size pieces and throw it in. It works surprisingly well with the tartness of the vinaigrette dressing.

In the Salad

Our cover photo is a luscious salad with spinach, mushrooms, sauteed pancetta, pine nuts, red onion and goat cheese. Minced fresh garlic was added to the dressing. It was magical.

In your own salad, mix everything in a salad bowl, toss with just enough dressing to taste and serve. Leave a side bowl of some dressing left over, where one of your guests will most likely dip her bread.