There is an endless number of ways to create salads with unlimited ingredients in every variety. You can make a specific salad with items that you select that will balance each other or a salad with any odd vegetables you may have in your crisper drawer. No matter what your preference or style of salad is, in my opinion; the dressing makes all the difference!
I stopped purchasing bottled dressing a while back when I found that it was so easy to make my own and the difference in taste was mind boggling! My salad dressings can be as simple as a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of vinegar and a little salt and pepper or as complex as a pre-mixed dressing with a multitude of ingredients. The best part is that none of them are difficult to make and they all taste markedly better than bottled dressing!
Here are 5 of my favorites for you to try:
VINEGAR & OIL
The secret to a great vinegar & oil dressed salad is to use quality products. If I am making a simple green salad with minimal ingredients as a small side dish, I prefer to use the drizzle method of dressing my salad.
I begin with crisp clean greens that have been torn or cut in to bite size pieces. I drizzle enough quality extra virgin olive oil to lightly coat the leaves. A sprinkle of kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper is added to the lettuce and mixed together either by hand or with a couple of spoons. Then I sprinkle a little vinegar and toss to mix, tasting and adding as needed. The oil should only be enough to coat the leaves, which will then adhere them to the vinegar. The vinegar has to be enough to brighten the flavor but not create too tart a taste. For this type of salad, my favorite vinegars to use are flavored ones such as peach balsamic, fig or blood orange. Any flavored vinegar works great and you can vary it depending on what you are serving it with. Always taste the salad by trying a dressed lettuce leaf. That will tell you if it is the right proportion of ingredients and if it is enough, but not too much which may wilt your salad. You don’t want your salad swimming in dressing!
The ratio of vinegar to oil is what is important in a vinaigrette. I like to use the 3-1 ratio. 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. You can always add more vinegar to taste if needed. I also like to use a bit of dijon mustard and some chopped garlic or shallots and fresh herbs. You can vary this depending on what you are serving with it, so you may want to use fresh tarragon, basil, oregano, parsley or cilantro if that compliments your meal. Here is one vinaigrette recipe I use often and vary slightly as needed:
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon shallot, minced fine
- 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried thyme)
- ½ cup olive oil
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Whisk first four salad dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil until emulsified, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Note: You may substitute other vinegars such as balsamic, champagne, sherry, rice or use lemon juice or a combination of them based on preference and what you are serving with your salad.
When using a vinaigrette, always toss your salad. If you spoon the dressing on, you will not get an evenly dressed salad and it will taste quite different from one that is tossed and coated with just the right amount of dressing. Believe me, if you are making your own dressing that coordinates with your salad fixings, no one will need to select their own dressing from an assortment of store bought bottles!
I often add citrus to my salads and this citrus vinaigrette is a wonderful accompaniment. You can mix in other citrus juices as well, but keep a balance of sweet and tart for the best flavor. It marries quite well with toasted nuts, avocados, feta or goat cheese, roasted fish, roasted beets, and so many other ingredients!
- 1 cup blended oil (3/4 cup grape seed, canola or vegetable oil with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil )
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 3 Tablespoons orange zest
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 3 Tablespoons capers, rinsed & drained and chopped
- 4 anchovies, chopped (I use white anchovies/Boquerones)
- 3 Tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Whisk the salad ingredients together in a bowl or shake together in a tightly covered glass jar. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
Note: If I add other juices or liquids, it will vary the 3-1 ratio of vinegar to oil as in this recipe that includes orange juice.
BLUE CHEESE DRESSING
I love blue cheese dressing! I eat it as a dip with fresh vegetable crudites, as a dip for celery and hot wings and as a salad dressing. It is great served on a wedge of iceberg or romaine lettuce topped with chopped tomatoes, green onions and chopped bacon.
- ¼ cup crumbled Maytag or other type blue cheese
- ¾ cups mayonnaise
- ¾ cups sour cream or yogurt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- dash cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Pulse the first 7 ingredients in a food processor and then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Note: Sometimes I substitute vinegar for the lemon juice. I always use Best Foods mayonnaise! If using yogurt, you will need to add some sweetener such as honey, agave or sugar. Just a teaspoon or so should do it depending on the tartness of your yogurt.
My favorite salad is a Caesar salad. It’s not always a standard Caesar in my house. Sometimes I make it with grilled romaine, or with white Cheddar instead of Parmesan, or with pine nuts and sundried tomatoes, or with fried polenta croutons. But, whatever version I make, it always has this dressing from my good friend Shelly!
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 egg, coddled (cooked in shell in boiling water for 45 seconds)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¼ c olive oil
- 4 anchovies, rinsed and patted dry and chopped (I use white anchovies)
- ½ c freshly grated parmesan
Mix the first 6 ingredients together in a blender. Add just enough parmesan to make the correct thickness and consistency.
Use these recipes as outlines for your salad dressings and add your own creativity to them. Feel free to experiment with alternatives such as other herbs, seasonings, citrus, vinegars, etc. If you’re cooking a Mediterranean meal, add some cumin & coriander, if you’re cooking French, maybe some fresh tarragon. Check to see what is in your garden, pantry or fridge and alter the dressings accordingly. Have fun with it and let me know what creative dressings you have discovered!