Several years ago, I went to lunch with my co-workers at a pretty little café. A few of them ordered the salad special on the menu. I would have also, except it was a mesclun salad with raspberry vinaigrette. When I expressed my distaste for such a salad, one woman said, “There is more to life than iceberg lettuce.” She was right, but at that time, I disagreed. Growing up, salad was always iceberg lettuce dressed with oil and apple cider vinegar. Later my mother shook things up by using romaine and leaf lettuces and red wine vinegar. Sometimes we had bottled Italian or Thousand Island dressing but that was as exotic as it got for us.
Even as an adult, I continued to be somewhat in a salad rut. While I became open to all kinds of lettuces and greens, my salad dressing choices were still limited to a few. I love balsamic vinegar but I was eating it every day. I wasn’t being as creative with salad dressings the way I am when it comes to other recipes. So like my mother years ago, I decided I had to shake things up, try new things and get out of my rut. I discovered it’s fun to play with salad dressings, adding ingredients I never would have imagined or tried all those years ago. If you have been in a salad dressing rut, try something new. Here are 10 ways to shake it up with amazing salad dressings.
1. All-Purpose Vinaigrette
First things first, you need to know how to make an all-purpose vinaigrette. Once you know how to make a basic dressing, all you have to do is play off of it, swapping and ingredients to make all kinds of creative dressings. I will admit, I often just pour oil and vinegar on top of my salad, but to really dress a salad well and fully incorporate all the herbs and spices, it’s best to prepare the dressing separately and then toss the salad with it. To make a basic vinaigrette, there are a few guidelines: to two parts oil, use one part acid such as vinegar or citrus juice; emulsifiers, such as mustard, help pull the ingredients together; use your favorite herbs, spices, salt and pepper; shake well right before serving because ingredients may separate over time; always underdress your salad since you can add more but you can’t undo it if you overdress the greens.
Here is an all-purpose vinaigrette recipe: Whisk 2 Tbs. vinegar (your choice), 2 tsps. Dijon mustard, ½ tsp. kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in ¼ cup oil. Taste for seasoning adjustments before serving. Of course, you may choose not to use any oil at all. Don’t worry, I have recipes for that too plus check out this article, “How to Make Oil-Free Vegan Salad Dressings.” If you don’t want to use agave nectar, use dates or some other sweetener. The important thing is knowing you can change any recipe to suit your desires.
2. Go Fruity
Looking back, I guess that café knew what they were doing. Fruity salad dressings are delicious. It’s all in the balance; the sweetness of the fruit is cut by the acid of the vinegar. Try adding blended peaches, mangos, watermelon, berries, or apple juice to your dressings for a fresh, fruity flavor that is perfect for summer.
I make an Orange Spring Salad with a mix of greens, chopped red onion and orange slices. It gets dressed with my Balsamic Berry Vinaigrette: 2 Tbs. fresh orange juice, 1/3 cup berries of your choice, 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp. agave nectar, 1 small minced shallot, ½ tsp. kosher salt, and ½ tsp. black pepper. Blend all ingredients until smooth. My old co-workers would be amazed. Also, try this Oil- and Nut-Free Berry Miso Dressing.
3. Sunny Citrus
Adding citrus to dressings gives them a zingy flavor. Lemons, limes and even oranges can complement or substitute for vinegar since they have acidic flavors. You can make a simple lemon dressing by whisking together the zest and juice of one lemon, 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard, ½ tsp. agave nectar and salt. Add fresh herbs such as parsley or dill for added flavor.
My favorite citrus choice is my Cilantro Citrus Dressing, which I use to top my Avocado Mango Arugula salad. It’s a beautiful and colorful salad – creamy green avocado, sweet yellow mango, spicy arugula, and red bell pepper and red onion slices topped with a zingy dressing of cilantro and citrus. Here’s the recipe: blend together 2 Tbs. orange juice, 1 Tbs. lime juice, 1 tsp. lime zest, 1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro, 1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives, 2 tsp. red wine or apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. This is a happy-looking salad that is guaranteed to induce good moods. For a creamy citrus choice, try this Creamy Lemon Herb Dressing.
4. Hail Caesar
I used to be obsessed with Caesar salads. Anytime I went anywhere for lunch, that’s what I ordered. When I became vegan, I had to come up with a recipe for vegan Caesar dressing so I could continue to indulge in my favorite salad. The key to a vegan Caesar dressing is adding vegan Worcestershire sauce and seaweed to sub for the traditional anchovies.
My version is easy: in a food processor or blender, combine 2 Tbs. vegan mayo, 1 Tbs. lemon juice, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. kelp flakes, and kosher salt to taste. Blend well, adding extra-virgin olive oil as you blend until you have your desired consistency. Here is another recipe for a Caesar Dressing that is not only vegan, it’s raw too.
5. Thai One On
I also make a Thai Caesar dressing. It may sound exotic but it’s really the same recipe as Italian Caesar with a few changes. Fish sauce is what makes Thai food so distinct but my Caesar dressing already gets that flavor from the kelp flakes. Use lime juice instead of lemon and add in a teaspoon of tamari and the dressing will have a unique Thai flavor. Top the salad with chopped roasted peanuts instead of the traditional croutons.
For another Thai salad dressing with a spicy kick, whisk together the zest and juice of 2 limes, 1 Tbs. tamari, 1 tsp. agave nectar or sugar, 1 tsp. kelp flakes, 1 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce, ¼ cup oil and ¼ tsp. kosher salt, if desired. Taste to make sure there is a good balance of hot, sweet, acid and salt. If you prefer, rather than using the tamari-kelp flake combo, make this Vegan “Fish” Sauce for your Thai dishes.
6. Call Me Honee
Honey-mustard dressing is a classic, but since we don’t want to endanger what’s left of the bee population and steal their food, we can make a delicious vegan version for ourselves. One of the first salads I ever made that was “out there” for me was my Orange Fennel Salad. It went against every salad notion I used to hold: it has no lettuce, it has fruit and it has nuts. Crazy, huh? The salad is an amazing dish of sliced celery stalks plus the leaves, sliced fennel bulbs, orange segments, toasted walnuts and fennel fronds for garnish. This salad is so beautiful. For a vegan version of honey-mustard dressing, just swap out the honey for agave nectar or any vegan “honey” alternatives.
The dressing for this masterpiece is my Agave-Mustard Dressing. Simply whisk together 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 2 Tbs. lemon or lime juice, ½ minced garlic clove, 1-2 Tbs. agave nectar, 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. For a spicy version, mix in ½ jalapeno pepper that has been seeded and minced.
7. Be Generous With Ginger
Ginger may not be the most beautiful ingredient on the planet, but what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in taste. Fresh ground ginger is a wonderful addition to salad dressings. It adds zing and a bit of exotic flavor. I love making a salad with chopped bok choy stems and leaves, shredded cabbage and carrots, sliced bell peppers, scallions and red onions, golden raisins and sesame seeds. Then I top it with my Peanut-Ginger Dressing which is ¼ cup brown rice vinegar, ¼ cup vegetable broth, 1 tsp. tamari or soy sauce, 1/3 cup unsweetened peanut butter, ¼-inch piece of grated ginger, 1 garlic cloves and ½ cup unsweetened almond milk blended together until smooth. It’s not only delicious, it’s super-healthy.
Another favorite dressing is Carrot-Ginger Dressing. Combine 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 2 Tbs. chopped ginger, 1 Tbs. tamari or soy sauce, 1 chopped carrot, 1 tsp. agave nectar or light brown sugar and 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil in a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding more oil if necessary. Taste for any salt adjustments. For more ginger experiences, try this Carrot-Ginger Dressing or this Asian Slaw Salad with Miso-Ginger Dressing.
8. Tasty Tahini
Tahini is not just for falafel; it makes a delicious, creamy salad dressing. I recently made the most beautiful, delicious salad for dinner. It had chopped kale, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, red onion, celery and plum tomatoes. Then I tossed in 2 cups of chickpeas. I love chickpeas. In keeping with the Middle Eastern theme of chickpeas and cucumber, I made a Lemon-Tahini Dressing. It was smooth, tangy and had a rich sesame flavor that was perfect for this salad.
To make my Lemon-Tahini Dressing, combine ½ cup tahini, ½ cup water, the zest and juice of one lemon, 2 grated garlic cloves, ½ tsp. dried oregano, ½ tsp. ground cumin, a pinch of cayenne pepper, with salt and black pepper to taste. Yum! You can also try this Super Healthy Kale Salad with Creamy Ginger Tahini Dressing.
9. Indian Spices
Indian spices are so fragrant and so flavorful, it always makes me happy to cook with them. But Indian spices shouldn’t be reserved just for cooked food, as they make incredible salad dressings, too. Go into your spice cabinet and pull out the curry, cardamom, cloves, cumin and garam masala and try them in a salad that is a main dish or on the side of some vegetable pakora.
A simple dressing that I use for my Indian Cole Slaw is: whisk together 2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar, 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice, 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger, 1 tsp. garam masala, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. agave nectar or light brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Use this dressing over a bowl of shredded green and red cabbage, carrots and scallions.
For something a bit more exotic, try this Cardamom-Clove Dressing, which combines the zest and juice of a fresh lemon, 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tsp. agave nectar, ¼ tsp. ground cardamom, ¼ tsp. black pepper, 1/8 tsp. ground cloves, a pinch of allspice and kosher salt to taste. This is a delicate dressing with deep, warm flavors that is delicious over any salad. Read the article “10 Spices to Spike Up Your Salad” for other ideas about how to add flavors to your salads that you might not have thought about.
10. Mad for Mediterranean
I love the flavors of Mediterranean food: tomatoes, olives and capers. Everything tastes rich, salty, savory and indulgent. My favorite Mediterranean salad is made with arugula, red onion, roasted red peppers, celery, Kalamata olives and chickpeas. I dress it with my Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette.
Here’s the recipe: In a blender or food processor, combine 4 chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar, 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, 1 minced garlic clove, the zest and juice of one lemon and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth and taste for seasoning adjustments.
For a creamy Mediterranean dressing, combine 1 minced shallot and 2 Tbs. chopped capers with 2 Tbs. each of Dijon mustard, vegan mayo, and red wine vinegar. Than mix in your favorite chopped fresh herbs such as parsley or tarragon. Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste. Or try this Oil-Free Tomato, Kalamata Olive and Miso Dressing that’s flavored with lemon and fresh herbs.
When I look at all these salad dressing choices, I can’t believe there was ever a time when I refused to try anything different. These are just a sampling of all the salad dressing recipes I have in my collection. For more ideas, check out the article, You Won’t Believe These 19 Salad Dressing Recipes are Vegan! Be sure to also read my article, 7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads, because you have to put these salad dressings on something.
Lead image source: Oil- and Nut-Free Berry-Miso Salad Dressing