Salad dressings are magical elixirs that can turn the most boring selection of leaves and vegetables into a dreamy meal when paired with a filling protein and a few crunchy bits. Here’s how to up your salad dressing game:
What goes in a salad dressing?
Vinaigrette salad dressings are a combination of an oil, an acid (like lemon juice) and sometimes a binding agent (like mustard) to stop it splitting. Toss in some seasonings, maybe some crushed garlic and herbs, a dash of honey for sweetness and voila! You have a delicious basic dressing that will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Creamy dressings, like Green Goddess, Caesar, Ranch or Thousand Island, are a bit different to vinaigrettes because they include mayo or yoghurt. Vegan versions of these creamy dressings incorporate dairy alternatives like blended cashews, ripe avocados and silken tofu.
Should I use lemon or vinegar in my salad dressing?
Choose an acid that works with the flavour of your salad ingredients. Bright and zingy, lemon juice is a failsafe acid that features in many salad dressings because of its mild, versatile flavour. But other vinegary acids (like balsamic, apple cider, red wine, rice and sherry) are perfect alternatives for lending sourness and aroma to robust ingredients, like peppery leaves, curly endive, radicchio, salty cheeses or grilled peaches.
Citruses, like lime juice and orange juice, are particularly yummy in Asian inspired salads that include cold noodles, finely sliced crunchy vegetables and dressings made with peanut butter and soy.
The pickling liquid from a jar of gherkins, jalapeños or olives makes for a flavourful acid too.
What’s the best oil for a salad dressing?
Olive oil is brilliant in salad dressings but anything from walnut, avocado, sesame or rapeseed oil is a great choice. The key is to balance your other flavours with the character of your chosen oil so you hit the perfect note of salty, sharp and sweet.
Does salad dressing need sugar?
Nope. But adding a touch of sweetness, via a dash of maple syrup, honey, ketchup or agave, will guarantee your dressing hits every taste bud. Note that if you’re using orange juice as your acid in your dressing you’ll have some sweetness in there already.
Is there an easy recipe ratio for salad dressing?
Aim for 1 part acid to 3 parts oil (along with flavourings and seasonings) to create a balanced flavour. A smidge of a binding agent, like mustard, mayo, Greek yoghurt, blended avocado, maple syrup or tahini, will emulsify all your ingredients together to create a thicker dressing that clings to salad leaves and veggies. Once you know what you like, you can adjust the ratios to suit your tastes.
Be bold with your seasonings
Your dressing will be the sole seasoning on your salad so it needs to be high-flavoured and super-scrumptious. Try blending in blue cheese or ripe avocado for a rich creaminess, sprinkle in nutritional yeast for a deeper savoury note or heat things up with wasabi, horseradish, ginger or mustard. Salad dressing should be salty and sharp because once you toss it through your salad, the watery ingredients, like cucumber and lettuce, will dilute its intense flavour and mellow it out.
Chunky dressings that combine anything from roughly chopped herbs, salty anchovies, crispy shallots, capers, sesame seeds and garlic lend a simple salad extra texture and interest.
Always taste your dressing before pouring it over your salad so you can adjust the seasonings to your palate. Add more acid to balance out too much sweetness, sprinkle in cracked black pepper for more heat or pour in extra oil to remedy an accidental over-salting