There are plenty of secret languages in the South. Barbecue speak, Cajun vernacular, angry Southern Mama, high school football coach. But none transcends generations quite like that of the handwritten (or often word-of-mouth) recipe.
Whether stowed in a recipe tin, pasted in a book, or safely tucked away in a memory, family recipes are part of what makes cooking so special. Christmas hams, party cocktails, elegant layer cakes, and cookout classics fill the dictionaries of Southern family recipes, but one of my favorites is a simple vinaigrette from my grandmother.
This recipe is so simple, in fact, that I’ve never bothered to make another salad dressing recipe at home. Its name? Well it doesn’t really have one; we’ve always just called it “Grandmama Dressing.” I don’t know where it came from and whether she made it up herself or found it somewhere, but that doesn’t really matter. Grandmama Dressing is a better name than “Easy Vinaigrette,” or “Quick Salad Dressing,” in my opinion.
A homemade salad dressing is one of those small details that dinner party guests always notice. No one would bat an eyelash if you served bottled dressing of course, but when they see you whip out the homemade stuff, they think, “Wow, that’s so thoughtful that she took the time to make it.” Just like crafting personalized place cards or buying your friend’s current local beer pick, a homemade salad dressing makes a subtle but oddly meaningful difference. Plus, it’s a conversation starter. With Grandmama Dressing, I’m asked for the recipe every single time.
Grandmama’s Homemade Vinaigrette only takes four ingredients, which I always have in my pantry anyway. Oil (whatever you have on hand, I usually use canola or vegetable, since they’re milder than olive oil, but a little EVOO would work just fine), Tabasco (or your hot sauce of choice), red wine vinegar, and sugar. That’s it. And if I have those four ingredients in my pantry as a twenty-something amateur cook, I know everyone else probably will, too. Even with so few ingredients, this vinaigrette has big flavor payoff. A bit sweet from sugar, a bit acidic from vinegar, a bit spicy from hot sauce, and rounded out with neutral oil, this homemade vinaigrette recipe is the perfect all-purpose salad dressing. One of our favorite ways to serve it is over a mixed greens salad with strawberries, mandarin oranges, toasted almonds, and crumbled feta or goat cheese. I’ve served it with pretty main-dish salads that include grilled chicken or steak and over an upgraded bag-o-salad from the grocery store (I did say I was an amateur, remember?). Regardless what’s in-season as far as salad toppings, this dressing is going to taste good with them.
The thing that makes this recipe even easier? The measurements. All you have to remember is ¼, ¼, two, two. One-fourth cup of oil, ¼ tsp hot sauce, 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugar. It’s impossible to forget, and even people like me who have to calculate tips on an iPhone can double or triple it for a crowd. You can whisk the ingredients together in a bowl or shake them up in a Tupperware container. I’ve even used a protein shake bottle to take it to potlucks, which is perfect for no-spill traveling, shaking, and serving.
Grandmama Dressing might not be fancy, but it’s irreplaceable in my recipe repertoire. Get the full recipe here.
WATCH: How To Make Dixie Chicken Salad
Need a little salad inspiration to use with Grandmama's Homemade Vinaigrette? Our Dixie Chicken Salad with Grapes, Honey, Almonds, and Broccoli is a delicious place to start.