We eat a lot of salads around here. Green, pasta, vegetable and fruit salads are generally easy to prepare, will feed a large crowd and in many cases, they're the perfect multi-purpose compliment to a simple main course. In my book, a pasta based main dish is never complete without a fresh green salad to help balance out the rich flavors of a spicy marinara or creamy alfredo or carbonara.
So, why buy bottled salad dressings when they're so easy (and economical) to make? Don't get me wrong. It's not like I don't ever buy the prepared dressings at the grocery stores, but when I'm having a gathering of friends or family where a salad is on the menu, I always make two or three of my homemade dressings.
(this is about as simple as it gets. The most important thing to remember is to always use a 3 to 1 oil to vinegar ratio)
- 3/4 C Light Olive or Safflower Oil
- 1/4 C Vinegar (cider, red wine, white wine or a white balsamic vinegar are fine)
- 1 Tbls Dijon Mustard
- 1 Tsp Kosher or Sea Salt
- 1/2 Tsp Black Pepper
- 1 Shallot, very finely minced
- Pinch of Sugar
Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette
Using the basic recipe, cut the dijon in half, replace the standard vinegar with a good balsamic and add 1 to 2 Tbls of your favorite honey. Trust me... You'll be amazed by what the honey does to this dressing.
Classic Caesar Dressing
Use the same amounts of oil and vinegar.
Use 1/2 of the mustard.
Add 1 Tsp worcestershire sauce, 1 large clove crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon anchovy paste. (I hate anchovies, but trust me; don't leave it out, because the paste is completely dissolved in the dressing and it's not fishy at all. It really isn't the same without it)
If you want a creamy Caesar dressing, add 1 egg yolk or 1 Tbls of real mayonnaise if you're worried about raw eggs.
I add about 1/4 Cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and some crispy fried Pancetta (Italian bacon) or American bacon, to roughly torn romaine lettuce and croutons and then I toss it all together at the table.
Adding a sweetener like brown sugar, honey or agave nectar can change the entire flavor profile of the vinaigrette and make it a bit more kid friendly too. You only need a pinch or two.
Experiment with different ingredients to see what you and your family prefer. Some combinations might not always be a huge success, but the ingredients are inexpensive and the prep time is quick, so you won't be wasting your time or your hard earned money if you need to make up a new batch.
The base ingredient in most creamy salad dressings is usually sour cream, mayonnaise or some type of oil. In some cases, all three of these might be in one dressing. This is another place where I would encourage you to experiment. There are a multitude of ingredients that you can add to this basic mixture and come up with a huge array of flavors and textures that are sure to make a plain green salad or a bowl of fresh fruit, a new and delicious experience. And if you must watch your sugar or fat intake, there are ways to get the same creamy rich flavors, without all of the things that you aren't supposed to eat.
Instead of a cup of full fat mayonnaise, try a low fat or fat free version or a couple of teaspoons of a light vegetable or nut oil.
While some dressing recipes call for heavy cream to thin them out a bit, try a tablespoon or two of low fat buttermilk or evaporated milk. (no, not the sweetened condensed milk ~ save that for some homemade fudge!)
Adding buttermilk will give a subtle sweetness and a slightly tangy taste at the same time. It's one of those "best of both worlds" ingredients because it's rich in flavor, but a low fat version adds far fewer calories. Evaporated milk tends to have a less than stellar reputation and it really shouldn't. It's quite low in fat and it doesn't add any funky flavors of it's own. It's also great in creamed soups, but that's another post for another day.
Mary's Thousand Island/Russian Dressing
I basically begged for this recipe when a much loved local steakhouse was closing it's doors after 40 years. ( If it wasn't totally wrong on every level, I could probably eat this stuff with a spoon) The chef was kind enough to give it to me and since the restaurant is now closed and is no longer serving it, I now consider it my own! LOL
- 1&1/2 C Mayonnaise
- 3/4 C Heinz Chili Sauce
- 3 Tbls Green Bell Pepper, finely minced
- 3 Tbls Yellow Onion, finely minced
- Kosher or Sea Salt, to taste
Mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl or in a processor or blender. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour. The longer you refrigerate it, the better it gets.
Mary's Garlic Blue Cheese Dressing
- 1 C Mayonnaise
- 1 C Sour Cream
- 8-10 oz Blue Cheese, crumbled and divided
- 1/4 of a Small Onion, grated with juices
- 1 Small Clove Garlic, crushed
- 1 Tsp White Wine vinegar
- 1 Tsp Worcesteshire Sauce
- 1 Tsp Brown Sugar
- Kosher or Sea Salt & Black Pepper, to taste
Mix all ingredients, except 1/2 of the bleu cheese in a small bowl or in a processor or blender until smooth and creamy. You can add a bit of milk or cream to thin it out a bit, if you prefer. Add the remaining 1/2 of the bleu cheese, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
For a twist on flavor, you can change up the ingredients a bit and make:
Creamy Cheddar and Bacon Dressing
Eliminate the Garlic, substitute 1 C Sharp Cheddar Cheese for the Blue cheese and add 1/4 C cooked, chopped Bacon.
Savory Buttermilk Herb Dressing (Ranch)
Replace 1/2 of the Sour Cream with Buttermilk.
Eliminate the Cheese and Garlic.
Substitute your favorite Hot Sauce for the Worcestershire
Add a handful of chopped fresh or dried herbs.
(I use Chives, Thyme, Basil, Oregano and Marjoram)
Maple Buttermilk Herb Dressing
I have tons of salad dressing recipes and I'm happy to oblige any requests, but with the basics that I gave in the recipes above, you should be able to take the ball and run with it. (notice the slight super bowl reference? LOL) Enjoy!
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