Who was the genius who first looked at her sad, dry bowl of leaves and realized it could be so much more? Salad dressing has the power to transform the simple to the complex, the boring to the interesting, and yes, the healthy to the unhealthy. We’re going to show you our favorite salad dressing recipes and discuss where they work the best. But first, a word about practicality, store-bought dressing and salad strategy.
The value of homemade salad dressing
Store bought salad dressing might be one of the biggest scams in the grocery store. Salad dressing’s most common ingredients are almost universally inexpensive, so why do store bought salad dressings cost so much? But it gets worse: store-bought salad dressing is not only egregiously expensive, it’s also far unhealthier than most anything you’ll whip up at home, full of high fructose corn syrup, low quality fats, and all kinds of chemical emulsifiers and additives. It can all add up to something heavy and unhealthy, which is especially unfortunate considering that salad dressing should be more like, well, salad: light and fresh. The bottom line is: if you take anything away from this article, make it this: do not buy salad dressing in the store!
Basics: the easiest homemade vinaigrette ever
Let’s start simple here. Every home chef should be able to whip up a homestyle vinaigrette at a moment’s notice. The simplest vinaigrette is just oil, vinegar, and an emulsifier like garlic or mustard. What’s an emulsifier, you ask? An emulsifier is a name for any kind of ingredient that helps two things mix together, in this case, we’re talking about oil and water. Different emulsifiers work in different ways, but what’s important is remembering that you always need one. If you don’t, your salad dressing will separate on the salad, and you’ll be left eating oily leaves marinating in a half inch of vinegar. Not good eats.
But what’s great about vinaigrettes is their amazing versatility. Think of all the different oils and vinegars in the store—feel free to mix and match as you like. It’s important to customize the vinaigrette to suit your salad. Check out our great recipe on how to make a perfect vinaigrette every time.
Balsamic vinaigrette for everyone
Perhaps the most popular vinaigrette, balsamic vinaigrette makes use of the sweet, deep taste of balsamic vinegar and pairs it with fruity olive oil. This one is a real winner—try it on a simple sliced tomato and onion salad, or a spinach-strawberry-walnut salad. This homemade balsamic vinaigrette recipe is sure to impress, and, as discussed above, the basic strategy of making a vinaigrette can be endlessly elaborated upon with different ingredient substitutions.
Vinaigrette variations: Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette recipe
To illustrate the versatility inherent to vinaigrettes, let’s take a look at this maple balsamic vinaigrette. In this recipe, the simplicity of the balsamic vinaigrette is complemented perfectly by the earthy sweetness of dark maple syrup, transforming the piquant French favorite into a decadently sweet sauce. Use this maple balsamic vinaigrette recipe as a dressing for roasted vegetables or wherever else you’d use a normal vinaigrette.
Getting more creative: Caesar salad dressing
Now that you’re comfortable with making vinaigrette, we have a confession to make. Not all salad dressings are the living epitome of simplicity in cuisine that a vinaigrette can be. One of the most successful and complex dressings is Caesar Salad. Fun fact: the Caesar salad is actually not an Italian recipe—rather it was invented in Tijuana, Mexico by a chef named Caesar! The more you know…
Caesar Salad, for all its popularity, has a briny secret: it gets its characteristic salty twang from the macerated anchovies that are mixed into it. And if that wasn’t controversial enough, the original recipe also includes raw eggs. You might have thought that Caesar salad would include some cream or yogurt, but the creaminess is all from the raw egg yolks—essentially making caesar salad a type of elaborated aioli. Raw eggs might seem a little intimidating, but stay with us, because it’s worth it: store bought dressing can never compare to the complex and intense symphony that is a freshly made, authentic caesar dressing. But what if you’re not really into all those funky ingredients?
How to make a vegan caesar salad dressing
It turns out that making a vegan caesar salad dressing is not only possible, it’s delicious. Even though you might think that it would be impossible to get caesar’s distinct briny flavor without using anchovies, this easy vegan caesar salad dressing recipe manages to capture the essence of its omnivorous cousin. The eggs are replaced with thoroughly blended silken tofu to give the dressing its characteristic creaminess, while fermented white miso gives the dressing the characteristic funk that we know and love.