I will always buy jarred pasta sauce, frozen dumplings, and pre-made food by the pound at the grocery store. However, when it comes to salad dressings, I suddenly become high and mighty—I never buy the bottled stuff. I make it from scratch. That's because homemade salad dressing tastes 100 times better, it's more affordable, and can be whisked up in under five minutes. Don't try and fight me on this one.
I've been making the same salad dressing (and its many variations—more on that below) for over 20 years. Well technically, I don't make the dressing. One of my kids—ages 5, 8, and 10—does. Because it really is that easy!
As I prep dinner, I toss half a lemon to whoever is closest to the kitchen and say, please make the dressing. They pull out a small bowl, a fork, a juicer (I like this one), Dijon mustard, and olive oil—and then they get to work. If you don't count the salt and black pepper, it's only three ingredients.
Why Dressings Call for Dijon Mustard
I know not everyone is a fan of Dijon mustard. (Don't worry, it's not super strong in this dressing.) There's a reason why so many salad dressing recipes call for Dijon mustard. It acts like an emulsifier that encourages the oil and vinegar to stay together, which means the dressing will be creamier, silkier, and tastier. You can use whole-grain mustard, but I would not use yellow mustard—save it for your hot dogs.
How to Make the Easiest Salad Dressing Ever
- 1/2 small lemon, juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 clove garlic (optional, but highly recommended)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
Use a fork to whisk the lemon juice and Dijon mustard together in a small bowl. Then, slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil while whisking until the dressing looks nice and creamy. Season the dressing with salt and black pepper to taste—start with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and add more if needed. If your dressing is too puckery, you may need to whisk in a little more olive olive. Not bright enough? Add a few more drops of lemon juice.
Gently crush the garlic by putting your weight on it with the palm of your hands, remove the peel, and add the clove to the dressing. You don’t have to use garlic, but it does truly take it to the next level and it won’t leave behind raw garlic flavor in your mouth. Promise. Right before serving, remove the garlic. (Don’t toss it! Keep it in a small container in the fridge for cooking.)
The Bajillion Dressing Variations My Family Loves
My favorite thing about this dressing—other than the fact that it's delicious and so, so easy—is that I can use it as a base to create amazing variations. Here are some of my favorites:
- Don’t have a lemon? Use red wine vinegar (this is my top choice), apple cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar—about 2 tablespoons.
- My kids like their dressing on the sweet side. Add a teaspoon of honey, agave, maple syrup, or sugar.
- Whisk in 2 tablespoons of tahini and a tablespoon of honey. This is my favorite variation, especially on super crunchy romaine leaves.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, dried thyme, or dried oregano, for a herby dressing. You can also use fresh herbs.
- A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes will give you a little kick.
- Turn this into an extra luscious dressing by using 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons mayo, sour cream, or full-fat Greek yogurt. You’re essentially substituting half of the olive oil with something creamy.
- Add 1/4 cup full-fat buttermilk and 2 tablespoons finely chopped dill (or 1 teaspoon dried dill).