I am often asked for good ways to improve one’s diet. One of my top suggestions is to eliminate overly processed oils and damaged hydrogenated fats. One great way to do that is to make your own salad dressing. The possibilities are endless and the result is healthy, refreshing and delicious.
Don’t get me wrong! Buying salad dressing is great when you need to save time. I certainly have my favorites that I will always buy, and I love the fact that the dressings at Whole Foods Market are clean and delicious, made without all of the chemicals additives so many commercial salad dressings have. They’re also made with good quality, non-hydrogenated oils.
Still, if you like experimenting in the kitchen like I do, and knowing exactly what goes into your food, then making your own salad dressing is a sure bet for a fun event! Might even save a bit of money too. Here’s my guide:
First on the list for making your own salad dressing is choosing good quality oil. Our stores carry a wonderful assortment of naturally processed, cold pressed and expeller pressed oils, and many are perfect for salads. Avoid the typical solvent extracted oils you find in other stores. Learn more about expeller pressed and cold pressed oils
Olive oil is a well-known favorite. For me, there is nothing finer than an extra virgin olive oil for salad. Olive oil comes from different regions and the flavor of the oil depends on the climate, region, growing method and the olive itself. The flavor of olive oil can be strong, peppery, spicy, earthy (I call it “grassy”), or even mellow and mild.
For fun and variety, you can substitute some or all of the olive oil with any of the following:
- Walnut oil
- Roasted nut oils, such as walnut or hazelnut (incredibly delicate and delicious) – roasting changes the flavor
- Canola, avocado or sunflower oil
- Cottage or ricotta cheese
VINEGAR OR CITRUS
The next ingredient in your salad dressing is something with a little acidity. This adds a nice balance in flavor and gives your salad some “pep.” Our stores carry a wonderful assortment of vinegars with a wide range of flavors. If vinegar is not your thing, there are plenty of other options. A good ratio of oil to vinegar is about 3:1, but this depends on your personal taste. Try some of these – I will combine different citrus in a dressing but usually not vinegars.
- Chardonnay white wine vinegar (or other white wine vinegar) — a little light
- Balsamic vinegar — darker and a little sweeter
- Raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar — delivers live enzymes and probiotics
- Red wine vinegar — very tangy and acidic
- Sherry vinegar—more subtle flavor than red wine vinegar
- Lemon and/or lime juice
- Pomegranate, grapefruit, orange, and/or pineapple juice — these are not as strong in flavor, so you may need a bit more
You can always keep your dressing simple with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, but there are a few extra “sparklers” I often use:
- Mustard (dry, prepared Dijon or honey mustard)
- Minced fresh shallots, chives or spring onion
- Crushed or minced fresh garlic
- Fresh minced or dried crushed herbs such as basil, tarragon, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram (the addition of fresh herbs add a great antioxidant boost)
- Finely chopped anchovies or capers for a bold punch of flavor
- A small amount of raw honey or agave nectar, if you like your dressing slightly sweet
- Unpasteurized miso in place of salt adds live enzymes and natural probiotics as well as wonderful flavor
- An ounce or so of feta cheese in place of salt in your recipe adds great flavor and a creamier consistency
Now that you have the basics, here are some simple ideas for complete salad dressings to get you inspired:
Manchego, Apple and Almond Salad
Vegan Caesar Salad
Green Salad with Rotisserie Chicken and Blackberry Dressing
- Enzyme/probiotic salad dressing: Whisk together 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, ¼-1/3 cup raw apple cider vinegar, 1 clove minced garlic, 1 small minced shallot, 1-2 teaspoons fresh white or mellow miso, 1 teaspoon raw honey, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Adjust the ingredients to personal taste.
- Greek-style salad dressing: Puree 1 cup extra virgin olive oil with 1/3 cup lemon juice, an ounce or two of feta cheese, a clove of garlic, some fresh or dried oregano and freshly ground black pepper.
- Spicy Asian-style dressing: Blend ½ inch piece of fresh diced and peeled ginger root with 1 or 2 cloves of garlic and 1 cup of refined expeller pressed sesame or canola oil in a blender. Add the juice of one or two limes, and 2-4 tablespoons of sesame tahini. Add tamari, crushed red pepper and honey or agave nectar to taste.
- Balsamic-walnut dressing: Whisk together 1 cup roasted walnut oil, 1/3 cup fig or blueberry infused balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon of prepared mustard, 1 small chopped shallot, salt and pepper. Look for roasted walnut oil in a nicely-labeled tin container with the rest of the bottled oils in our grocery section.
I always store my salad dressing in the refrigerator where it will last up to a month and even longer if it is just olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. If you use fresh herbs or chopped onion and garlic, try to use the dressing within a week or so. If your dressing contains mostly olive oil, it will solidify in the fridge. Pull it out about ½ hour before you use it or run the bottle under a little hot tap water; it will liquefy quickly. Some people leave olive oil and vinegar out on the counter and that’s okay to do, too. Just give it a good shake before using.
If you have a recipe you love for salad dressing, or any must-have ingredients, I’d love to hear about it.