Ever since I was a kid I have loved making salad dressings, including the white Italian balsamic dressing featured below. My Dad, who taught me most of my kitchen skills, showed me how to make some of the best salad dressings at a young age. One of the ones we most often whipped up together was a creamy little number for our family restaurant. We called it Elisha’s House Dressing, and it was a creamy peppercorn recipe served atop a massive salad or fried veggies (not the healthiest, given its mayonnaise and buttermilk base, but delicious to say the least).
Salad dressings can add so many great flavors to a dish—sweet, savory, salty, and even spicy. They can accompany simple grilled veggies, grain salads, a tomato salad, or crispy greens. Really, it’s all about the ingredients: a good oil, fabulous vinegar, and quality spices. No, mayo and buttermilk aren’t a prerequisite for good-tasting salad dressings. As you’ll see with my white Italian balsamic dressing recipe, you can keep the ingredients simple, healthy and fresh, and still end up with one of the tastiest (creamiest) salad dressings out there.
With salad dressings, you want to experience a lot of flavor without detracting from the low calories and high health benefits of the salad itself. Since fat is really where most of the hidden calories dwell—the fats often used in salad dressings include oils, mayo (which is made up of oils), and dairy—that’s where we’ll make some changes.
For my salad dressings, including this white Italian balsamic vinaigrette, I typically choose a high-quality California Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), or a quality nut oil like walnut or avocado. EVOO adds that spicy, tangy bitterness, whereas avocado oil is very clean and silky. The type of oil you choose to use all depends on the kind of dressing you want to make.
As for the kinds of oils I steer clear of when concocting my salad dressings? I never use vegetable oil, peanut oil, or any kind of blended oils. These tend to have the least amount of health benefits. I do, however, like to add pureed fruit or avocado, or even greek yogurt, to some of my salad dressings. These additions can really add to your recipe in terms of health, texture, and flavor. Just be sure to remember that when adding these ingredients the shelf life decreases, and things will need to be refrigerated.
If we’re looking to lower calories, and we know fats are where most of them hide, we need to reduce the amount of fat we use when making our salad dressings. In other words, a typical vinaigrette recipe calls for a ratio of 1:3 (vinegar to oil). To reduce the amount of fat in my salad dressings, I prefer to use either a 1:1 or a 1.5:1 ratio of vinegar to oil.
Now, let’s talk about the most important ingredient in your salad dressing: vinegar. Why vinegar? When you choose a high-quality vinegar, you barely need to alter your salad dressing. For example, if you use a very acidic balsamic that has little depth and is super tart, you’ll need to add sugar or salt (both of which detract from the health benefits of your salad and your salad dressing) to calm down those flavor profiles.
To avoid having to add in excess sweeteners or salt, I often choose aged vinegars, as they are naturally sweeter and offer much lower acidity. With a good vinegar, I hardly have to doctor my salad dressing recipe at all. The vinegar simply speaks for itself.
One of my favorite vinegars is from Batastini Farms. Their aged balsamic is fantastic, and their white balsamic is my absolute favorite (a perfect fit for this white Italian balsamic dressing!). And no, Batastini Farms is not paying me (yet) to say these things. They just make some darn good vinegars that I want you to be able to experience in all your salad dressings.
Garlic is also a great addition to any dressing (sometimes I use shallots instead, or both garlic and shallots, like in this DIY white Italian balsamic vinaigrette). It all depends on the mood I am in! If you do use garlic, just remember to chop it fine and let it sit for 10 minutes. There’s a fab phytochemical in there called allicin that really shines when you chop up the garlic.
Basically, what scientists know is that most of the health benefits of garlic come from the sulfur compounds that form when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed or chewed. Benefits can include improved immunity, reduced blood pressure, and so much more. So: add chopped garlic, almost always.
Here is my go-to white Italian balsamic dressing recipe. Feel free to sub in any other aged balsamic with the white should you prefer a more robust flavor profile.
Yields 2-4 servings
DIY White Italian Balsamic Dressing Ingredients
½ cup aged white balsamic
½ cup EVOO
2 garlic cloves
2 medium shallots
6 sprigs fresh basil
1 ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
Add all ingredients other than the oil in a blender or food processor.
Blend until mixed well, add oil slowly.
Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Add to your favorite salad, including our lovelycrunchy salad mix.
Do you have a family salad dressing recipe you remember making as a kid? How about a DIY vinaigrette you like making now? I’d love to hear from you! Send me a note about your favorite balsamic dressing recipe or balsamic brand.
And for other easy, healthy recipes (including the best bruschetta ever) from the Mint Nutrition Kitchen, be sure to check back regularly or follow us on Instagram.
As a certified integrative and functional dietitian, it’s my job to come up with tasty, healthy recipes and meal plans for individuals (neat, I know). To learn more about how my recipes and meals can best serve you and your specific needs, schedule a 15-minute consultation with Mint Nutrition today.