In elementary school, a friend of mine and I would swap eating dinner at each other's houses pretty frequently. She liked mine because, with three young kids in tow, my mom kept the pantry stacked with snacks. I loved eating at hers specifically for the salads.


Regardless of the main course, the same romaine lettuce and veggies would be tossed in the same vinaigrette and served in the same wooden bowl. I would start with a heaping pile; go for seconds, then shamelessly sneak the stragglers out of the serving bowl after all of the dishes had been cleared. And for years I assumed tossing the dressing before serving was the secret. I gave no thought to what was being tossed.

You know, ranch was great with carrot sticks, and we always kept a bottle of ginger dressing around to recreate our favorite Japanese restaurant’s house salads. Bottled balsamic vinaigrette did the trick. I was perfectly satisfied with store-bought dressing! Until I wasn’t anymore.

For a couple of years I’ve been tossing the usual suspects (balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon etc.) in a jar, shaking, and pouring without giving it much thought. I already confessed I don't measure, so the whole game is really up to chance. But recently I’ve become obsessed with the idea of a “house” dressing, one that's perfectly tailored to your family's taste. I live alone, so creating my own was a simple task in theory. That is, until I started looking up recipes.

I spent the better part of yesterday evening with three (whittled down from a list of over 30) potential “house” dressings: Balsamic Vinaigrette, Roast Lemon Vinaigrette, and White Wine Vinaigrette.


Balsamic Vinaigrette: As my go-to anyway, I was hoping to perfect the art and incorporate a few more players than oil and vinegar. I followed the recipe measurements exactly, but instead of mincing, gave the shallot and garlic a rough chop. They marinated in balsamic for about 30 minutes before I drained the liquid and used the reserved goodies for a salad. Brown sugar is the secret weapon here.

Roast Lemon Vinaigrette: Not so feasible for every day use, but hey, I was curious. As far as dressings go, this one was time consuming. But after roasting the lemons for about 40 minutes (my apartment still smells fantastic) the fruit slipped off the rind and came together quickly. Roasting the lemons provides plenty of natural flavor, so next time I'll skip the salt. It's thicker than I prefer for salads, but will make a great meat marinade.

White Wine Vinaigrette: I'm in the midst of a Chardonnay craze—I couldn't resist. I didn’t like this one at all when I finished it, so I set it aside while I worked on the others. Then I forgot about it while I made dinner. Then I drizzled it over some lettuce and fell in love. Light, no ingredient overwhelms the other—I think I found my house dressing.

The experiment isn't over! Does your family have a "house" dressing? What's your secret ingredient?