Salad dressing is one such case. It seems like such a minor thing that doesn’t matter much, so most people use store-bought versions without thinking about it. But it’s actually much less expensive -- and healthier besides -- to make your own. And it's also a cinch.
By comparison, a bottle of canola oil that you could use to make your own dressing costs less than $0.84 per pint, and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil that you could use to make a more gourmet dressing is only $2.82 per pint. It's a similar story with the vinegar. They are much cheaper than a bottle of dressing.
So, whether you use the fancier olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or the plainer canola oil and red wine vinegar, you can make a dressing out of simple, wholesome ingredients for a fraction of the cost of the commercial brands -- and without the sugar (often the 3rd or 4th ingredient) or the unpronounceable ingredient names listed on some dressing labels.
For my dressings, I like to stick to the basics, such as olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
And you can dress a salad in about 30 seconds when you measure oil and vinegar directly onto the salad, as I do most of the time. Simply add oil and vinegar directly onto your salad in a ratio of approximately 1:1, using either a teaspoon measure for 1-2 person salads, or a tablespoon measure for larger salads. Some people prefer a ratio of about 1 to ¾, or even 2:1.
It's entirely an individual taste that you'll figure out after one or two tries. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the salad and toss everything together thoroughly, and serve. It doesn’t get much quicker and simpler than that.
But if that approach doesn't suit you, you can also make up your own bottles of dressing very easily, which is what my recipe below details. Combining the ingredients together in a jar or bottle offers the opportunity to blend a wider variety of flavors in the dressing. The resulting mix can be used on salad, or as an inexpensive and easy marinade for vegetables or meat.
The recipe I offer below is a basic one for bottled Italian vinaigrette dressing. But you can easily customize it to suit your personal taste. Leave out the oregano and basil and add some catsup and paprika instead to make it more like a French dressing.
Or use ginger and/or soy sauce to lend an Asian essence to the dressing. Include a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise to lend a creamier consistency, or some mustard and a bit of honey to provide a bit of sweet spice. The combination possibilities are pretty much endless.
One trick Mom taught us all was to make use of a near-empty catsup, mustard, or mayonnaise container to make the dressing. That way, when you shake it, you get added flavoring from any residual catsup, mayonnaise, or mustard clinging to the sides and bottom of the container AND you cut down on waste by making use of even small amounts of food that would typically end up in the trash.
Another painless way to cut down on waste and save pennies and dimes that add up over time is to actually measure the dressing over the salad instead of just pouring it. This eliminates the waste created by the puddle of unused dressing left behind in the bottom of the salad bowl that Mom used to save and pour back into the dressing bottle, but most people throw out.
One tablespoon of dressing is typically enough for 1-3 servings of salad, while 2 tablespoons are a sufficient quantity for salads that serve 4-6 people. That's enough to flavor and coat it, without overdressing or drowning it. The key is to toss the salad thoroughly so that the dressing is well distributed. You can get by with less when you make sure to do that.
If you were to buy the dressing made from the recipe below, which uses only extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the bottle would likely cost you between $6-8. But as written, you can make it for $2.75 - or less .
And if you use regular canola oil instead of olive oil and/or substitute wine or even cider vinegar for the balsamic vinegar I use here, you can make a pint of it for yourself for less than 85¢ - with no dubious ingredient list to worry about. Now that's a bargain!
So go right ahead and give making your own dressing a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes Approx. 1 pint, enough for approximately 15-30 salads
(based on 1 tablespoon of dressing for 2 -4 servings)
Total Prep Time - Approx. 5 minutes
Total Recipe Cost - Approx. $2.25, if using extra virgin (compared to an average of $4-8 per pint for store-bought balsamic dressing)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (you may substitute any vegetable oil that you prefer
1 cup (or a little less or more, to your taste) balsamic or red wine vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Recipe continues after photos
- Use an old jar, or bottle, or container with a secure lid to keep and make the dressing.
- Measure the 1 cup of olive oil out and pour it into the bottle, using a funnel if it’s a narrow-neck jar.
- Measure the 1 cup of vinegar out and add it to the oil, again using the funnel if necessary.
- Measure all the seasonings (1/2 teaspoon oregano,1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon basil,1/4 teaspoon garlic powder,1/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/4 teaspoon pepper) and add them to the oil and vinegar. Again, a funnel will make this easier for narrow-necked bottles.
- Put the top on the bottle and shake the contents vigorously to mix them.
- Taste test and adjust the seasonings as needed.
- Measure the dressing over the salad before the oil and vinegar can separate again. Figure on about 1 tablespoon for every 2 servings of salad.
- Store the unused dressing in your pantry. It will keep for several weeks.