Whether you’re going for a zesty Asian salad, grilled chicken salad or classic green, it’s all about the perfect salad dressing to bring it together. Making your own is really easy, and to help you get started, here’s our guide to making the perfect salad dressings. Don’t be afraid to experiment – with different herbs and oils for example – and remember that you can tweak things to suit your own taste, so if you like your dressing tart, add more vinegar, and if you want something smoother, whisk in more oil.
A classic vinaigrette is quick and easy, yet never fails to impress. Simply mix one part vinegar (red wine, white wine or cider) with 3 parts oil (a peppery extra virgin olive oil works well). For example, 1 tbsp vinegar with 3 tbsp oil, or to dress a larger dish simply multiply up to 2 tbsp vinegar and 6 tbsp oil and so on.
Best for – green salads
Add ins – crushed garlic, herbs (fresh or dried), Dijon mustard (which helps thicken the dressing) or a pinch of sugar to balance the vinegar.
Sweeter than other vinegars, balsamic can be used on its own as a simple salad dressing or mixed with oil for a milder taste. Alternatively, you can intensify the flavour with a sticky, syrupy balsamic glaze as in this peach and beetroot salad recipe - simply boil the vinegar in a small pan for a few minutes until reduced and the consistency of golden syrup.
Best for – Italian-style salads, roasted peppers, sweet tomatoes, courgettes, bitter rocket or even with fruit-based salads; this melon, mozzarela and salami salad is the perfect mix.
Add ins – Mediterranean herbs such as basil or oregano, or spice things up with a pinch of crushed chillies
Rich and creamy, a blue cheese dressing can turn a simple salad into something much more indulgent. Look out for soft cheeses with a strong flavour, such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola. The simplest version is to blend or mash 1 part cheese to 2 parts mayonnaise until smooth, then mix in a good squeeze of lemon juice to loosen.
Best for – crisp salad leaves such as Little Gem, endive and chicory, crunchy celery, and autumnal ingredients such as apples, pears and walnuts.
Add ins – try swapping the mayonnaise for buttermilk or low fat yogurt. This warm salad of roasted cabbage has a blue cheese and soured cream dressing for a tangy contrast.
Ranch dressing is a staple for hearty American-style salads, adding a touch of creaminess and the subtle fragrance of garlic and herbs. For the basic dressing, combine 1 part soured cream, 1 part buttermilk and 2 parts mayonnaise with lemon juice, crushed garlic and finely chopped chives to taste. For example, 2 tbsp each soured cream and buttermilk, 4 tbsp mayonnaise, ½ lemon, 1 garlic clove and a small handful of chives.
Best for – meaty salads made with grilled chicken, pulled pork or this peppered steak and potato salad.
Add ins – try swapping the chives for parsley or dill, use low fat yogurt for a lighter version, or a pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika for subtle heat and colour.
Asian cooking is all about the balance of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (savoury) flavours. Asian salads might have a fairly plain base of crunchy shredded veg and rice, so the dressing is crucial in adding zingy, zesty, punchy flavour. A classic dressing will include lime juice (sour), soy sauce (salty-umami), a pinch of sugar (sweet) and oil (such as sesame). Whisk to combine and adjust to your personal tastes.
Best for – fish and seafood, as in this Japanese-style salmon salad, or rice and noodle bowls including this tuna poké bowl.
Add ins – fish sauce and rice wine vinegar are often added to up the sour and bitter notes, chilli and finely grated ginger add heat, fresh coriander adds a fragrant lift, and sesame seeds give a nutty crunch.
Tahini is a rich, nutty, sesame seed paste traditionally found in Middle-Eastern cuisine and most commonly used in making houmous. It also makes a great base for a salad dressing, adding a hint of creaminess without too much heaviness, and is great for vegan and dairy-free diets. To keep things simple, whisk tahini with lemon juice and a splash of water until loose enough to drizzle over your salad.
Best for – hearty salads full of pulses and grains, or to balance the saltiness of halloumi or the bitterness of aubergine, kale and cabbage. This aubergine, halloumi and chickpea salad is a great mix to try, or with this vegan lentil kofte and cabbage salad.
Add ins – spices such as turmeric or sumac help to cut through tahini's richness, or you could add a little low fat yogurt to make it even creamier. For something totally different, try this broccoli salad with a miso and tahini dressing that blends Middle-Eastern and Asian influences in one.
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