Salad dressings can sometimes seem like a kind of clever alchemy laden with mystique. There’s a plethora of shapely bottles and enticingly labelled jars on offer in supermarkets and they are glamorously flaunted on restaurant menus as they profess to bring to life and enhance considerably less exotic items such as, well… a common garden salad!
Shop bought dressings however, can be pricey and full of additives and preservatives. It’s also easy to be lured by a fancy label and have something exotic festering in your fridge until the use-by date passes you by. Restaurant dressings are always a little bit mysterious, usually revealing only one lead ingredient, i.e. with a sesame oil dressing. Sound familiar?
The world of homemade dressings is however a relatively simple one. Once you have the basic ingredients and a few simple guidelines you can quite easily become the master of your own “dress-tiny” (Get it??).
There are some great reasons to love a good dressing:
- Oils and the acid in vinegars are essential for the body to process and digest all the great nutrients you find in typical salad ingredients
- Oils used to make dressings contain a wealth of healthy nutrients from vitamins and minerals to antioxidants, along with an assortment of antimicrobial and antibacterial properties
- They make salad eating considerably more enjoyable, making you more likely to consume healthy food on a regular basis
So, to get started:
Find yourself a snazzy bottle or jar with a screw lid. An empty jam jar is perfect as are basic screw top mason jars.
SNAPPY DRESSING – Level 1, The Basics
At the simplest level, you can simply mix some olive oil and vinegar, or olive oil and lemon juice - always with a good twist of salt and pepper. This can be in any combination that suits your tastes and calorie intake goals. Of course, whilst the oil plays an important role in assisting the absorption of nutrients, it will add the most calories; so if weight gain is a concern, simply lessen the oil content in favour of the vinegar or lemon.
To begin your taste trials try:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
For more zing and less calories, simply reverse the quantities and experiment till you get it just right, tailor-made exactly for you.
SNAPPY DRESSING – Level 2, The Pick and Mix List
If you wish to up the ante a little, the next thing you can do is to:
- Experiment with different oils and vinegars
- Add some fanciful flavours
Remember, these magical potions are all within your power and control, be it spicy, tangy, mellow or sweet. The choice is entirely between you and that jam jar.
Anything goes! But here are some loose guidelines, if you like that sort of thing:
- From the table below, take 2 to 3 parts of the oils of your choice to one part vinegar
- Sweeteners and flavourings are optional and entirely to your taste but if you are making sufficient dressing to serve 4, consider a tablespoon of honey, mustard, tamari or tahini and a generous sprinkling of herbs, chilli flakes or crushed or finely chopped garlic
- Put all your ingredients in your jam jar and shake, shake, shake!
|Grapeseed||Balsamic||Maple Syrup||Mustards, Dijon, Wholegrain, French|
|Sesame||Red Wine||Pinch of brown sugar||Citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange)|
|Flaxseed||White Wine||Tamari or Soy|
|Coconut||Any Herbs (Oregano, Basil, Mixed, Coriander, Mint )|
One to try:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- Salt & pepper
SNAPPY DRESSING – Level 3, Get Creamy
Here we are talking mayonnaise and ingredients such as crème fraiche, sour cream and natural yoghurt. A little bit of caution is required here. Whilst these can start to add an extra layer of indulgence, they can start to pile on the calories and possibly overwhelm the great salad ingredients they are meant to be enhancing.
All these creamy ingredients can all be swapped for the oils as a base in the table in level 2. It’s worth knowing that a dollop of tahini can bring a nice creamy texture to a dressing just in itself.
If you wanted to try your own homemade mayo:
- 2 egg yolks (room temperature)
- ½ teaspoon of mustard powder
- 300ml olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon hot water
- Salt and pepper
- Place egg yolks, mustard powder and salt and pepper in a bowl and beat until smooth
- Beating quickly, gradually add half the oil, a drop at a time until the mayonnaise is thick
- Stir in half the lemon juice or vinegar, then beat in the remaining oil a few tablespoons at a time
- When all oil is in, stir in the remaining lemon juice or vinegar, plus hot water which will prevent separation
Homemade mayo can be stored covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. If you have a blender, the oil can be added gradually this way.
Once complete you can add garlic, honey, mustard, curry powder and other flavourings to really bring your dollop to life.
So, get your salads dressed for success, see what magical potions you can conjure – but always remember it’s what’s inside that counts (lots of leafy veggies).