MAKES: About 3/4 cup

TIME: 5 minutes

From here grow all other vinaigrettes. Use your instincts or any of the suggestions on the following pages to vary the basic recipe. My everyday dressing almost always includes a bit of mustard (see the second variation), which helps emulsify the dressing while adding tang.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons good wine vinegar, or more to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large shallot (about 1 ounce), cut into chunks (optional)

Combine all the ingredients except the shallot in a blender and turn the machine on; a creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds. Taste and add more vinegar a teaspoon or two at a time until the balance tastes right to you.

Add the shallot and turn the machine on and off a few times until the shallot is minced within the dressing. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve. (This is best made fresh but will keep, refrigerated, for a few days; bring it back to room temperature and whisk briefly before using.)

Variations

Lemon Vinaigrette. Light, fresh tasting, and all purpose: Use 1/4 cup or so freshly squeezed lemon juice for the acid and plenty of black pepper. A tablespoon of warm water will help the mixture emulsify.

Mustard Vinaigrette. Simply add 1 heaping teaspoon (or more) of any good mustard to the blender. It doesn’t have to be Dijon; whole grain is fine too. You can also use dry mustard; start with about 1/2 teaspoon.

Soy Vinaigrette. One of my favorite quick dressings: Add a tablespoon of soy to the mix, along with dark sesame oil to taste, about a teaspoon. Lemon juice, lime juice, and vinegar are all just fine here.

Ginger Vinaigrette. Add a 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped, to the blender. Use a mixture of 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, and about 1 tablespoon lukewarm water for the liquid; be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning, using plenty of black pepper.

Honey-Garlic Vinaigrette. Strong, sweet, and delicious: Use balsamic vinegar for the acid. Add about 1 clove garlic and 1 tablespoon honey to the mix.

Coconut Curry Vinaigrette. Use rice wine or coconut vinegar. Instead of the olive oil, use coconut milk, either made from scratch (see Coconut Milk) or canned (use it straight from the can without any extra water). Blend in a tablespoon of curry powder (to make your own, see Fragrant Curry Powder).

25 Simple Additions to Vinaigrette

  1. Any fresh herb: For tender, milder herbs like parsley, basil, or dill, use as much as a quarter cup; for stronger, tougher herbs like rosemary, tarragon, or thyme, a teaspoon is enough.
  2. Any dried herb or spice: Here it’s harder to offer general guidelines, but start with as little as a pinch 1/8 teaspoon or so and work your way up from there. Be careful not to blow away the vinaigrette; dried herbs and spices can be quite strong.
  3. Minced fresh ginger: Start with a teaspoon.
  4. Minced fresh garlic: Start with a small clove. For milder garlic flavor, let a crushed clove sit in the vinaigrette for a few minutes, then fish it out. Or wipe your salad bowl with a crushed clove of garlic and discard. Roasted Garlic makes a terrific addition and emulsifies like crazy; because it’s mild, you can use 5 cloves or more.
  5. Minced red onion, scallion, shallot, mild white onion, or leek: Start with a tablespoon or so.
  6. Soy sauce or other liquid seasonings: Use as much as a tablespoon.
  7. Honey, maple syrup, or other sweeteners, within reason: Don’t use more than a tablespoon or so.
  8. Freshly grated Parmesan (or other hard cheese; see Cheeses for Garnishing or Snacking) or crumbled blue cheese, feta, or goat cheese: Anything from a tablespoon to 1/4 cup will add flavor.
  9. Minced crunchy vegetables red or yellow bell pepper, cucumber, celery, carrot, or fennel, for example: Try a couple tablespoons.
  10. Minced pickles, preferably cornichons: Go with a tablespoon to 1/4 cup.
  11. An egg or fresh or sour cream, yogurt, or pured soft tofu: A couple of tablespoons will add incredible creaminess to your vinaigrette.
  12. Prepared or freshly grated horseradish: Use at least 1 teaspoon.
  13. A tablespoon or two of minced tomato (seeded and, preferably, skinned) or bits of reconstituted sun-dried tomato.
  14. Roasted Vegetable Stock: Add just a tablespoon or two.
  15. Minced nuts or seeds, especially peanuts, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, or pumpkin seeds: A small handful will do it.
  16. Roasted and peeled bell pepper (see Roasted Red Peppers): One is usually enough.
  17. Avocado: Blend in the flesh of 1 small or medium.
  18. Poppy seeds: 2 tablespoons is a wonderful addition to Lemon Vinaigrette in particular.
  19. Canned chipotle: 1 pepper is plenty, with just a tiny bit of its adobo.
  20. Soaked and softened sea vegetable, like arame, hijiki, or wakame: 1/2 cup is about right.
  21. Small cooked whole grains, like cracked wheat, amaranth, millet, or quinoa: Stir in up to 1/4 cup after blending.
  22. Peach, pear, or apple: Peel, seed, and cut 1 small one into chunks.
  23. Salsa Roja: Use 1/4 cup.
  24. Dried fruit, like blueberries, cherries, raisins, apricots, pineapple, or mango: Add up to 1/4 cup.
  25. Any pitted black or green olives: 1/4 cup or even more if you like, but be sure to add these before you salt the vinaigrette.