I am so excited to share this homemade balsamic vinaigrette recipe with you. I can’t tell you how many times I have texted, emailed or written this recipe on scraps of paper for friends. It is bursting with flavors, bright with color, sweet from a good quality balsamic, with salty hits from blue cheese and a crunch of toasted nuts. The dressing tastes better than the store bought stuff because it IS better than the store-bought stuff. Nothing but a few fresh, good quality ingredients and none of the preservatives or artificial anything. So, so GOOD!
About 10 years ago, I bought my last bottle of salad dressing EVER. Did I stop eating salad? Nope, I learned how to make THIS spinach salad with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette that is so doggone good, you could eat it with a spoon.
So, ten years ago, (when I was 26-wow- it soooo doesn’t feel like 10 years) anyway-my friend Brandi and I are making dinner and she whips up her mom’s recipe for a balsamic vinaigrette. It took her exactly 5 minutes and made THE BEST salad I had ever tasted. Brandi’s mama’s balsamic vinaigrette literally changed my life. Because guess what? Once you know how to make one version- you can make any. This balsamic dressing is roughly a 1:3 ratio of acid to fat. 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar to 3 tablespoons olive oil. You can swap the vinegar and spices for anything. Lemon juice, any other vinegar, add a little dijon- the options are endless, but the 1:3 ratio stays the same.
I have adapted it over the years, the original recipe calls for more sugar. If you like a sweeter dressing, can always whisk in a little more sugar at the very end. Taste the dressing first and add the sugar a tiny pinch as a time. I also add cayenne for a little kick.
There are two keys to making this dressing awesome.
First, you MUST use the good balsamic vinegar. This bottle runs me around $13 and it is AMAZING. Better quality balsamic vinegars are aged longer, have a higher sugar content and they will give you a far superior dressing than if you use the $3.99 stuff. Considering it lasts forever and you will only use about 3 tablespoons at at time, it is worth it. As for your olive oil, I use Bertolli. Some of my salad dressings will call for fancier oil, but the balsamic is such a powerful flavor, you really can’t tell the difference in this one.
This spinach salad is going to be your new go-to salad for holidays, dinner parties and pot lucks. It has graced my table at least a hundred times and earned me a lot of “this is sooo GOOD! How do you make this?”
First, you put a garlic clove through your garlic press and mash it with the back a spoon with white pepper, a little cayenne, a tiny pinch of sugar and salt until it makes a paste. I usually just chop garlic, but for this you want it super fine, so use the press. If you don’t have one here is the one I use and love.
The second trick to this is you must emulsify the oil with the vinegar. Remember the 6th grade science experiment where you learned the difference between a suspension and a solution? This is sort of like that. Mayonnaise is an emulsification of egg yolks (fat) and vinegar (acid). You want the fat and the acid to become one. I see a lot of vinaigrette recipes that direct you to just throw everything in a jar and shake it. That way will work, but you are likely going to end up with a suspension that is going to separate. For a balsamic dressing this way is better. It will have a better texture and will be silky rather than oily.
Measure your oil into something that has a spout, so you can drizzle it in very slowly. Then you whisk very, very fast while VERY slowly drizzling in the oil. Use a heavy bowl so that it won’t get knocked around by the whisking. I can’t tell you how many dinner guests I have asked to “hold my bowl” while I drizzle and whisk. When you are done it should look like this and should keep in the fridge for about 5 days. It also should NOT separate.
You need a good balloon whisk for this. The wire loops should be thin and flexible. If yours are stiff and you need a new one- try this one.
Could you just put your garlic paste and vinegar into the blender and then drizzle in the olive oil with the blender running? OF course you could. But that would be like handing over a calculator before learning addition. And personally, I find it easier to just use the bowl and the whisk rather than haul out and dirty the blender. Either way, your salads just took on a whole new life.