Most bottled vinaigrette salad dressings are good for one thing — marinating meat.

Most bottled vinaigrette salad dressings are good for one thing — marinating meat.

Which is why when it comes to dressing summer-fresh produce, you are much better off making your own. The flavors are bold and crisp, the sodium and fat usually are lower and the process is cheap and easy.

The key to making a great vinaigrette is understanding the basic balance between acids and fats needed for a tasty dressing. To some extent this is subjective, but a 1-to-3 ratio of acid to fat is a good starting point.

Balsamic vinegar and olive oil are classic, but any number of vinegars or citrus juices could be used for the acid, and numerous nut, seed and vegetable oils work well as the fat.

A salad heavy on cheese or meats does well when dressed with sharp flavors that cut through the fat. So a dressing with a mild-flavored oil and an assertive acid would work best.

Additional flavors added to the dressing itself not only affect taste, but also texture and viscosity. A creamy vinaigrette, for example, is easily made by adding yogurt (regular or fat-free) or mustard.

Even some produce can create this effect. Pureeing roasted red peppers or sun-dried tomatoes into a dressing adds lush body without tons of calories. If calories aren't a factor, toss in avocado slices.

But if you're looking for lots of flavor in a thinner dressing, try adding fresh herbs.

As for method, a shaker works, but a blender is best. When adding other ingredients to a basic vinaigrette, a blender's pureeing action will give you the best results.

— The Associated Press