Years ago, my friend Joni introduced me to a wonderful little balsamic vinaigrette recipe she called “1-2-3 Dressing.” It was just this simple:
1 part sugar (hang on, sugar-free peeps! there are options!)
2 parts balsamic vinegar
3 parts olive oil
Combine all in a jar, and shake. Done!
Easy to remember, easy to whip up, easy to adapt to any amount you need. Are you doing a test recipe to see if you like it or need to tweak the proportions? Use teaspoons as your “part.” Making a salad for one? Use tablespoons. Making a bigger batch for the family? Use quarter cups.
It keeps well in the fridge for a week or two. The oil will solidify, but 15-30 seconds in the microwave (or an hour at room temp) and a quick shake, and it’s good as new.
This recipe was great — until I went low carb. But when I subbed Splenda for the sugar (I know, I know!) I discovered that sugar plays a pivotal role in the chemical process: the sugar helps the dressing cling to the lettuce leaves. But I also discovered a simple fix: substitute mayonnaise for part of the olive oil.
This creates a creamy balsamic salad dressing, perfect over a steak salad, a club salad, or many other options!
This opened my eyes to the fact that this lovely little formula is more than a single-dressing recipe: it’s a basic template for making almost any vinaigrette-type dressing you can imagine! You can also include more than three ingredients, as long as the total of each type of ingredient remains approximately the same. (Though I have been known to eyeball it on occasion!)
So the basic vinaigrette recipe is this:
1 part sweet and/or savory
2 parts sour/acidic/tangy
3 parts oil or soft fat
And here are various ingredients that can go in each of those categories:
Sweet/savory: honey, maple syrup, orange juice concentrate, apple juice or apple juice concentrate, berry puree (using sweet berries such as blueberries or strawberries; tart berries may need additional sweetening), pineapple juice, soy sauce (or tamari sauce or coconut aminos), ketchup, sweet pickle relish. Some savory options that you’ll want to use in limited quantities, filling up the rest of the “part” with a milder flavor: mustard, sriracha, or other hot sauce.
Sour/acidic/tangy: almost any vinegar, lime or lemon juice, pomegranate juice, pickle juice.
Oil or soft fat: olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, mild-flavored nut oils, mayo (try homemade!), guacamole, bacon drippings (must be warm enough to be liquid). Strongly flavored oils – such as sesame, walnut, or hazelnut – can be combined with a milder oil.
Options: Of course, you can also add minced onion, garlic, herbs, spices, salt and pepper if you wish.
VINAIGRETTE VARIATIONS AND ALTERNATE USES:
Most of these can also be used as a marinade for chicken, or a quick glaze for anything pan-seared. (See my video on how to perfectly pan-sear salmon. It goes great on salad!)
Here are some dressing combos I’ve come up with, tasted, and approved:
Sugar-free/Paleo/Whole30 balsamic: Use coconut aminos for the sweet/savory, along with the usual balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add some cooked steak, chicken, or salmon to your salad, and you’ve got a complete, Paleo-friendly Whole30-compliant meal! (Thanks again, Joni, for this idea!)
Creamy balsamic: Maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, a mix of mayo and olive oil. This is great on a steak salad, salmon, or this chicken club salad.
Basic Italian: Maple syrup (about one quarter to half what you would use for other dressings), red wine or balsamic vinegar, olive oil; also, dried oregano and a little salt. Optional additions: crushed garlic or garlic powder, rosemary, and black pepper. Try this on my antipasto salad.
Creamy Italian: Same recipe as the Basic Italian, but substitute mayo for about two-thirds of the olive oil.
Champagne vinaigrette: Try this on a salad with pan-seared salmon and fresh blueberries – one of my faves! Honey for the sweet part (a third to a half less than you would use for other dressings), champagne vinegar, and a light-flavored oil such as lite olive oil or grapeseed. Salt lightly, to taste.
Bacon dressing: My husband is not a huge salad fan, but when I make this and put crispy bacon in the salad too, he’s all over it! Maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, liquid bacon drippings (warm enough to be liquid), and a little bit of mustard. And maybe some black pepper, if the bacon wasn’t peppery.
Asian dressing: Honey, rice vinegar and/or lime juice, a mix of sesame oil and a light-flavored oil (adjust depending on your love for the flavor of sesame oil); add minced garlic and/or ginger, either powdered or fresh grated. An alternative to sesame oil: use some creamy sugar-free peanut butter or other nut butter or seed butter for part of the fat. If you use a nut butter, you may need more powerful blending than just shaking the jar.
Citrus dressing: This is wonderful on a salad with avocado and mango or sweet orange segments.Use a mix of orange juice concentrate and honey for the sweet part, lemon and/or lime juice and/or rice vinegar or champagne vinegar for the sour/tangy part, and a light-flavored oil. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Taste for sweet-sour balance: dip a leaf of your lettuce in the dressing. If it’s too sour, add a little more honey. If your salad will have sweet fruit such as mango or tangerines, bear in mind that will help balance the sour, too.
Special sauce dressing: I use this to make a yummy cheeseburger or bacon burger salad. Use ketchup and a little bit of mustard for the sweet/savory part; pickle juice for the tart; and mayo for all of the fat.
Check out my short video on how to keep fresh spinach from going bad before it wilts.