5 Elements or should I say 5 basic ingredients are needed to building a salad dressing.
Anything outside of the 5 is up to you, up to your taste-buds, those are accessories. I found the info down below to be helpful in opening my own creative flow when it comes to salad dressings. It only takes a matter of minutes to make your own dressings and in doing so you can control the quality of your ingredients as well as the quantity. My goodness, when was the last time you allowed your eyes to scan past the nutritional states on a jar of manufactured dressing, on down to the ingredient list? It is nothing to find more than 15-20 different ingredients listed, half of which turn into a Hooked on Phonics game in trying to pronounce them. Once you get past pronouncing them, does a person really have to stand in the middle of the aisle to Google on your iPhone what they are all? Then to top it off they charge high prices for these chemical lab produced products. Pft!
I encourage you, step out of your comfort zone and try making a few of your own. You just might surprise yourself! Trust me, you are listening to a woman who didn’t dare move beyond using cinnamon, salt and pepper. No longer do I fear spices, I look them square in the eye with confidence and now experiment with them.
Below you will find the 5 ingredients broken down into 5 categories, along with a few examples to help you get your thought process moving.
Groups A, B, & C are the main ingredients. D & E are items added depending on mood or salad.
(A) Oils/Fats – Olive oil, Flax oil, Coconut oil, Nut butters, Tahini, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkins seeds, Pinenuts, Almonds, Cashews, Macadamia nuts, Avocado
(B) Salts – Celtic Sea salt, Crystal salts, Nama Shoyu, Miso, Sea vegetables
(C) Acids – Lemon, Lime, Orange, Grapefruit, Tomato, Sauerkraut, Apple Cider Vinegar
(D) Sweets – Dates, Figs, Dried Fruit, Honey, Orange, Berries, Papaya, Mangos
(E) Aromatics – Herbs & Spices – Garlic, Ginger, Onion, Chili, Peppers, Cayenne, Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Dill, Mint, Curry, Sun Dried tomatoes
Extra ingredients but not limited to:
- chopped shallots, scallions, or sweet onion
- minced garlic
- grated ginger (nice in lime-based dressing on simple green salad with nectarines)
- chopped fresh herbs like chives, chervil, mint, and/or parsley (mint is especially nice with citrus)
- a tablespoon of whole grain mustard
- a tablespoon of flaked nutritional yeast (adds a cheesy flavor)
- Add water when possible to most dressings to allow for the use of less oil. Personally, I love using avocados in place of an oil. The calories and fat grams will lower if you are looking for a lower calorie alternative. If you use avocados, make sure to add them as the last ingredient. If you over blend them it can affect the flavor and texture.
- Always add the acids (C) last because that will make the dressings thicker and creamier.
- Using a blender will help you achieve a creamier dressing but if you don’t have access to one a mason jar will work. Just add your ingredients, put the lid on and shake away.
- Creamy dressings will stick to the greens in your salad better and prevent a puddle in the bottom of your dish.
- Soaking nuts that you may use in your dressings is beneficial for a couple of reasons. One being that soaking most nuts releases the enzyme inhibitors making them easier to digest and also soaking the nuts will help to soften them a bit for blending purposes. This will help to avoid a gritty dressing.
- The addition of a little mustard helps bind oil and vinegar together, making for a more stable emulsion.
- The ratio for a vinaigrette is typically 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or lemon juice, etc..
- Make a quick avocado dressing by combining half an avocado with a cup of vinaigrette in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth.
Click here to learn about different types of green leafy vegetables.
Dressing your salads:
- Leafy salads should always be dressed at the last possible minute.
- I can’t emphasize enough the importance of thoroughly drying all salad ingredients before dressing them. The best dressing in the world can’t save a salad if the greens haven’t been thoroughly dried. Invest in a salad spinner, it is essential kitchen equipment.
- Bold greens such as peppery arugula or bitter chicory with an equally assertive dressing; e.g. balsamic vinaigrette.
- Tender, mild lettuces — butter or Bibb lettuces or baby greens, for instance — are best treated with more delicacy. Lemon juice or a mild vinegar such as white wine, champagne or rice wine are most appropriate.
- Romaine and other crisp, mildly flavored lettuces have an affinity for creamy dressings. Similarly, stronger flavored, fleshier greens beg for a more generous hand with the dressing; greens more delicate in flavor and substance are better when lightly dressed.
- When purchasing your greens a heavier head indicates freshness, also look for crisp leaves. There shouldn’t be any bruising or browning on the leaves. Look at the base of the greens, there shouldn’t be much browning, if there is, it means that it has been sitting around longer after harvesting.
Side Note about fats: Fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber. Many of these nutrients (e.g. beta carotene, vitamin D, and vitamin E) are fat soluble and their absorption is enhanced when consumed with a small amount of healthy fats. Add a small amount of healthy oil (e.g. extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil) to the salad dressing or whilst cooking, or include other healthy fat sources such as avocado, coconut, nuts or seeds.
A word on reducing oils:
- Olive oil is a classic, but it might not be the flavor you’re looking for. Avocado oil is another smooth, richly flavored option
- Walnut oil (or another nut oil) is a nicely flavored option.
- Seed oils like sunflower, flaxseed, or grapeseed oil are delicious choices.
- When reducing oils in your dressing to cut calories adding chutney or mustard, which will add flavor and help to emulsify the other ingredients. Choose strong flavored oils such as toasted sesame, walnut or peppery extra virgin olive oil that, even when used sparingly, contribute a lot of flavor to dressings. Treat yourself to premium vinegars such as aged balsamic vinegar, which is concentrated and low acid. You’ll be able to get by with less (or even no) oil if the vinegar you use isn’t too puckering. Find your light dressing too tart? Add a pinch of sweetener to offset the acidity of the vinegar.
- Carotenoids, found in salad leaves, are best absorbed when eaten with a little oil. Try adding delicious oil-based dressings, or even an avocado with its healthy monounsaturated fats, to maximize their availability.
Here are some examples of combinations that can be made but don’t limit yourself to them. These dressings are all made in a blender.
- Basic Tahini – Water, Tahini, Nama Shoyu, Lemon juice, Garlic (this was served on baby spinach and onion salad)
- Spicy Thai – Olive oil, Almond butter, Nama shoyu, lime juice, honey, ginger, garlic and thai pepper (this was served on cabbage, bok choy, raisins, coconut and scallions)
- Date dressing – Water, olive oil, miso, lemon juice, dates and garlic (this was served on a mixture of baby greens)
- Creamy Italian – Water, macadamia nuts, celtic salt, apple cider vinegar, garlic, basil and oregano
- Tropical Vinagrette – Flax oil, celtic salt, apple cider vinegar, mangos, papaya, mint and garlic
- Sun Dried Dream – Cashews, celtic salt, grapefruit juice, apple cider vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes
- Ageless – Water, sesame seeds, miso, sauerkraut, garlic
- Avo Dressing Avocado, celtic salt and lemon juice
- Curry Cream – Tahini, celtic salt, orange juice, ginger and curry