Balsamic Vinaigrette with Garlic and Basil

There’s one salad dressing I never get tired of, and that’s my mom’s balsamic vinaigrette with garlic and basil. It’s so simple, but people love it. Both Michael’s mom and my friend Becky’s mom asked me to make it within hours of arriving in their states (Illinois and New Jersey, respectively). Little does my mom know she’s starting a salad revolution. She’s satisfied just getting my brother and sister to eat their leafy greens.

My mom washes a bunch of fresh basil, squeezes the water out and freezes the whole stack wrapped in plastic wrap and foil. Then she takes it out and slices however much she needs. So resourceful.

Also, I’d like to refute Russ Parson’s offhand comment about balsamic vinegar: “Balsamic vinegar is known for its sweetness, but in a burnt-sugar-caramel kind of way that doesn’t fit most culinary purposes (and certainly not salads).” I know, who am I to argue with the food editor at the LA Times? But it’s just not true. This vinaigrette is great for so many salads — whether it’s just lettuce, a garden mix or something with shrimp, steak or chicken.

Steak salad with peppers, onions, avocado and balsamic vinaigrette
Steak salad with peppers, onions, avocado and my mom's balsamic vinaigrette — fast but amazing lunch

Sorry Russ, I’ll take balsamic over a red wine vinegar and dijon version any day.

Balsamic Vinaigrette with Garlic and Basil

My mom learned of this recipe from her Mothers of Preschoolers church group ages ago. We haven’t been to church in years, and my brother, who was a preschooler the first time she made it, is now a sophomore in high school. But the vinaigrette is still everyone’s favorite salad dressing.

  • Good balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • garlic cloves
  • fresh or frozen basil leaves (dried stuff just won’t cut it here)
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Sea salt (Kosher salt works too of course)

If you have a mortar and pestle, that’s best for this. Otherwise a bowl and a spoon (or the flat bottom of a glass) can sort of do the same job. Smash a garlic clove or two with some salt. Add fresh ground pepper and a few

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leaves of chopped basil, then smash some more.

As for the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, there are different schools of thought on what the ratio should be. The classic is 4-to-1, but that seems way too oily for me. My mom and I generally do 2-to-1. Once you make it, you’ll learn more about the proportions that work best for you. Pour in mortar and whisk till combined. My mom says she occasionally puts a tiny bit of water in because she thinks it helps the whole thing come together better. I’ve never done it.

You can use the vinaigrette right away, but the flavors get a little stronger with time. My mom usually makes a little every few days. I’ve made a lot at once and it kept for two months in the fridge. As mentioned before, it’s great on just about any salad combination you create.