Experience Life Magazine

Dress Up Your Salad: Salad Dressings

Eight easy and healthy salad dressings you can make at home.

Sep12_dress-up-your-salad

Most people think of salads as inherently healthy, but the moment you top your leafy greens and vibrant veggies with bottled dressing, your salad’s health halo evaporates. The typical commercially prepared dressing is chock-full of industrial vegetable oils, sugar, and chemical additives and preservatives.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s a cinch to make your own dressings. No exotic ingredients or fancy techniques are necessary. Our ace recipe developer and food stylist, Betsy Nelson, has put together a primer on how to craft your own salad dressings, including recipes, pantry tips and a step-by-step demo on how to make the perfect vinaigrette. Start dressing your salads the homemade way, and you’ll never go back to store-bought.

4 Basics for Well-Dressed Salads

From classic vinaigrettes to tangy Asian blends, here are some easy dressing essentials any home cook can master. Find variations on these themes below. For how-to video demos of basic techniques, watch “Show Me How: Homemade Salad Dressing With Betsy Nelson.”

1. Classic
A dressing that should be in every confident cook’s arsenal. Pair any high-quality oil with an acid (such as vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice), season, and you’ve got a simple and endlessly versatile vinaigrette that goes with just about any salad.

Basic French Vinaigrette

Makes 3/4 cup

  • 1 tsp. minced shallots
  • 1/2 tsp. minced herbs
  • Juice of one large lemon or 3 tbs. white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk together shallots, herbs, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. (Alternatively, in a jar, shake together all the ingredients until the dressing is emulsified.) Keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Olive Oil and Lemon Juice Dressing

  • 3 tbs. lemon juice (one large lemon)
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place salad greens in a bowl. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top, and drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil. Add salt and freshly ground pepper, and toss gently until salad is mixed.

2. Creamy
Luscious and satisfying, creamy dressings are a perennial favorite. They are great with crisp, sturdy greens such as romaine or endive, or as a dip for grilled vegetables or vegetable crudité.

Green Goddess Dressing

Makes 1 1/2 cup

  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, loosely packed
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 cup avocado, cubed (about 1 avocado)
  • 1 tbs. fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 2 tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, sour cream, or mayonnaise
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Blend spinach, scallions, avocado, tarragon, vinegar and yogurt together in a blender until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keeps in the refrigerator for one to two days.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Makes 1 1/2 cup

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 scallion, finely minced
  • 1 tbs. fresh chopped dill
  • 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh marjoram or other herb
  • 2 tbs. white wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Adjust the seasoning according to your taste, and have fun experimenting with different herb combinations. Keeps in the refrigerator for one week.

3. Fruity
Fresh fruit juices and mashed or puréed fruits offer creative ways to jazz up any dressing. Fruit-based dressings go well with dark leafy salad greens, such as arugula or spinach, or on any salad topped with toasted nuts and chèvre.

Strawberry-Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 cup strawberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Blend together the strawberries, balsamic vinegar and honey. While the blender is running, slowly drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil until the dressing is smooth and emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keeps in the refrigerator for one week.

Curried Orange-Ginger Vinaigrette

Makes 1 cup

  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar (optional)
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh gingerroot
  • 1 tsp. minced shallot
  • 1/2 cup almond oil
  • Salt to taste

Toast the curry powder in a small skillet for about 1 minute, stirring until fragrant.  In a separate bowl, whisk together honey, orange juice and zest, vinegar, gingerroot and shallot. Add reserved curry powder. Finally, whisk in almond oil until emulsified, and season with salt to taste. Keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks.

4. Asian
Light and zesty, most Asian-inspired vinaigrettes pair well with a variety of fresh salad greens, especially spinach, and shredded cabbage. They can also enliven rice or buckwheat noodles, as well as steamed vegetables.

Sesame-Shiitake Vinaigrette

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 tbs. plus 1/3 cup untoasted sesame oil, divided
  • 3-4 medium shiitake mushroom caps, minced, about 1/4 cup
  • 1 tbs. tamari
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. grated fresh gingerroot
  • 1 tsp. finely minced shallot
  • Cayenne pepper to taste, if desired
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Heat a small sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon of the untoasted sesame oil. Sauté  the shiitake mushroom in the hot oil for about 1 minute, and then remove from heat. Add the tamari and marinate for a few minutes. In a small bowl, add the marinated mushrooms, vinegar, grated ginger, shallot and cayenne pepper; drizzle in the remaining sesame oils (untoasted and toasted).  Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Keeps in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

Thai Peanut Dressing

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 tbs. grated fresh gingerroot
  • 4 tbs. creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 1 tbs. or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 4 tbs. water

Blend the gingerroot, peanut butter, lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, honey and water until smooth and creamy. For a thicker dressing (great for grilled meat skewers), add only two tablespoons of water. Keeps in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

Quick Salad Dressing Tips

  • The classic oil-to-vinegar ratio is 3:1, but feel free to adjust oil and acid levels to your taste.
  • Choose high-quality, cold-pressed oils, such as extra-virgin olive, pumpkin seed, flax, walnut and almond oils. Store them away from heat, and keep sensitive oils, such as nut and seed oils, in the refrigerator.
  • Have a variety of vinegars on hand, such as red wine, white wine, balsamic, champagne, sherry and apple cider.
  • Add fruit and vegetable juices to vinaigrettes. Fresh apple cider added to a raspberry vinaigrette, for example, adds a natural sweetness that cuts some of the vinegar’s acidity.
  • Experiment with your creamy salad-dressing bases — try Greek yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise, tahini or other seed and nut butters, and even puréed fruits such as raspberries, strawberries and avocados.
  • Salads aren’t just about lettuce: Shredded vegetables and fruits such as celery, cabbage, carrots, kale, fennel, apples and peppers are great vehicles for dressings.
  • Add some heft and protein to your salads by topping them with beans, hard-boiled eggs and canned fish, such as sardines and anchovies.

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Web Extra

Tahini Lemon Dressing

This Middle Eastern–inspired dressing is great on grilled vegetables or fresh salad greens, and also makes a great side for grilled meats. 

Makes 1 1/2 cup

  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 3 tbs. white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  • 10 to 12 tbs. water

Blend all ingredients together

Web Extra

Roasted Tomato Maple

Reminiscent of the “Catalina” dressing so popular in the 1960s and ’70s, but much healthier.

Makes 1 1/4 cups

  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 4 medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic, with paper still intact
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs. maple syrup
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle a sheet tray with olive oil and add the tomatoes and the garlic cloves. Roast the tomatoes and garlic together until the garlic is soft and the tomatoes have softened. Allow the tomatoes and garlic to cool somewhat before making the dressing. When the garlic is just slightly warm, squeeze the softened roasted garlic from the paper and into a blender. Add tomatoes and all remaining ingredients except for the olive oil. Blend until smooth and slowly drizzle in the olive oil while the blender is running, and blend until the dressing is smooth and emulsified.

Web Extra

Cucumber Yogurt Dressing With Mint

This dressing is based on tzatziki, a classic Greek sauce used for grilled meats.  

Makes 1 cup

  • 3/4 cup chopped cucumber
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbs. chopped fresh mint
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

Optional: Add a clove of minced garlic, a dash of Cayenne, or 1 teaspoon minced scallions.

Blend cucumber, lemon juice and yogurt together in a blender until smooth. Add chopped mint, salt and pepper and pulse to mix. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding minced garlic, scallions or cayenne to add more zip to your dip.

Web Extra

Classic Creamy Caesar Dressing

A classic since the 1940s, this dressing takes a homemade mayonnaise base and ramps it up with the strong, addictive flavors of garlic, lemon and Parmesan cheese.

Makes 1 cup

  • 2 egg yolks
  • Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 4 anchovy filets
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, blend egg yolks with lemon juice, garlic, anchovies, Parmesan cheese and red wine vinegar until smooth. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil until the dressing becomes thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Add 1/4 cup more olive oil if you want it to be a thicker dressing, more like a mayonnaise.)

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3 Comment to Dress Up Your Salad: Salad Dressings

  • Alma says:

    I thought the recipes from the magazine were going to be present! I was especially interested in the Fruity, Classic, dnd Creamy ones! ;-(

    • Jocelyn Stone says:

      Hi Alma,

      The recipes mentioned as Web Extras are included in the main body of the article on this page — we felt that it would avoid having to move up and down the page as much. We apologize for the confusion.

      Have fun with the recipes!
      Jocelyn Stone, associate editor

  • Barbara says:

    Would be helpful if you made is so your recipes could be easily printed onto 3 X 5 index cards.

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