By Judy Hevrdejs


It takes longer to spell vinaigrette than it does to make it. Vinegar. Oil. Salt. Pepper. Mix it up. Splash it on the season's first greens.

Master this classic French dressing, and you'll understand why chefs call it one of the great sauces. Start with a simple recipe or the classic proportions: 1 part vinegar to 3 or 4 parts oil.

Taste. Consider the elements of your salad. Adjust.

Now improvise.

Embellish it with herbs, spices, mustard or honey. Drizzle it on blanched asparagus, sliced tomatoes, grilled vegetables, fish or meat.

"You should be looking at ingredients the way a musician looks at the keyboard," said chef and cookbook author Norman Van Aken of Norman's in Orlando, Fla. "It's fine to substitute an ingredient if you know why — if you're furthering the story. Or will you be muddying it?"

Jacques Pepin , the legendary TV chef and author of 20-plus cookbooks, might add chopped tomatoes, onions, capers or avocados. "The variety is almost infinite," he said.

Pepin's easiest recipe? Start with an almost-empty jar of Dijon mustard, he said, then "put in salt, pepper, a tablespoon of good red wine vinegar, then some oil, and shake."

Simple? Versatile? You bet. And it can also cost less than bottled varieties. One cup of vinaigrette made at home with red wine vinegar and olive oil costs about $2.20. Two national brands we checked recently cost $2.90 or more per cup.

The key to success: balancing the acid (vinegar or lemon juice, for example) and oil (olive, corn, etc.) to complement a salad's ingredients.

Strong-flavored lettuces, pickled vegetables, a Cobb salad, delicate greens or subtle fruit—they each require a different balance of vinegar to oil.


Add interest with vinegars: mild rice or sweet balsamic, tangy red wine or apple cider.

Oils range from mild vegetable to olive; go easy with intensely flavored seed (sesame) or nut (walnut, hazelnut) oils.

Match the dressing to the flavor and texture of greens — a delicate taste with tender greens (Boston, bibb, etc.), more intense tastes with strongly flavored greens (romaine, arugula, radicchio, etc.).

If a salad has strong acid elements (i.e., pickled vegetables), "I may just use olive oil and lemon juice 1/8because3/8 I don't want more acid," chef Norman Van Aken said.

When a salad is served after an entree such as roast chicken or beef, add a bit of the pan juices to the vinaigrette.

Use a fork, a whisk, a blender — or a clean screw-top jar.

Lettuce leaves should be dry so dressing clings to them.



Prep: 5 minutes Makes: About 1/2 cup

Adapted from the 12th edition of "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" (first published in 1896).

2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil

Mix vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl; let stand a few minutes. Slowly stir or whisk in oil. Taste for acid and salt; add more if needed. Stir to blend before using, or store in a jar with a tight lid in refrigerator; shake well before using.


Mustard French dressing: Add 1 to 11/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard to the vinegar. Blend. Proceed with recipe.

French dressing with fresh herbs: Add 2 teaspoons fresh chopped herbs, such as basil, chervil or tarragon.

Chiffonade dressing: Add 1 tablespoon minced parsley, 2 tablespoons minced sweet red pepper, 1 tablespoon minced onion, and 2 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped.

Nutrition information: Per tablespoon: 120 calories, 100 percent of calories from fat, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 146 mg sodium, 0 g fiber



Prep: 5 minutes Makes: 1 3/4 cups

One of cookbook author and chef Norman Van Aken's variations on the vinaigrette adds pineapple juice and sesame oil.

3/4 cups each: canola oil, pineapple juice

1/4 cup dark roasted sesame oil

1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon each: honey, soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk all ingredients together vigorously in a bowl, blender or food processor. Stir to blend before using, or store in a jar with a tight lid in refrigerator; shake well before using.

Nutrition information

Per tablespoon: 76 calories, 92 percent of calories from fat, 8 g fat,

1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 64 mg sodium, 0 g fiber


(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.