Some women collect shoes. I collect vinaigrettes, especially the balsamic variety. It's probably the reason why I love eating salads so much, but, ultimately, vegetables are just a vessel for delicious dressing. In fact, the vegetables in a salad are interchangeable and dispensable, but the dressing could make or break the dish.
Though it's the one crucial component in a salad, dressings are unbelievably diverse. There are countless varieties of balsamic vinaigrette alone, some with mustard, some with honey, some with citrus juice, etc. Whether you prefer an extra tangy vinaigrette or a spicy version, the best part of making your own salad dressing is that you can whisk just about any condiment into it to suit your taste.
Personally, I prefer a creamier, smoother balsamic vinaigrette over the oilier, grainier ones, so my secret ingredient is mayonnaise. Instead of olive oil, I use mayonnaise as the fat to emulsify the vinaigrette. And I add honey to offset the acidity and savoriness. The end result is an absolutely perfect balance of creamy and tangy and goes well with both delicate greens like arugula and mesclun and heartier leaves like kale and cabbage.
Sometimes I add lime juice and fresh herbs (chopped basil gives it a great herbaceous taste) to intensify the depth of flavor, but the basic recipe below is, in my mind, perfect the way it is.
Makes enough for a large salad
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Whisk all ingredients together until emulsified and smooth.