Salads don't always get a lot of love. They often feel like a chore, something you force yourself to eat to feel less guilty about the more interesting food on your plate. But a salad can be just as exciting as any other part of a meal, and the easiest way to improve your salads is to lose the bottled dressings and make your own. Homemade salad dressings are fresher and tastier than anything you can buy in the supermarket, and once you've got the hang of making them they couldn't be easier. From classics like ranch and Caesar to a variety of vinaigrettes, we've rounded up 11 of our favorites to put you on the path toward better salads.
Of course, once you make a salad dressing you still have to know how to use it, so check out our guides to making the best mixed-green salad and properly dressing a salad. And if you're concerned about having to make a dressing every time you want a salad, here's a handy little trick for making sure your favorite, homemade dressings are little more than a quick shake away.
If you only ever learn to make one salad dressing, it should be a basic vinaigrette. The most important thing to remember is the ratio of oil to vinegar—we find 3-to-1 does the trick. Dijon mustard acts as an emulsifier to keep the dressing from breaking and minced shallots add a subtle sweetness.
You can make a vinaigrette with a whisk, but it's easier to just pour everything into a squeeze bottle and shake vigorously to combine. For this vinaigrette we use a mix of sherry and balsamic vinegars and shake them up with olive oil, adding some soy sauce to give the dressing a little umami punch.
When I said vinaigrettes use a 3-to-1 oil to vinegar ratio I really should have said oil to acid—you don't have to use vinegar. Here we use citrus juice instead, with a combination of tangerine and lemon juices forming the acidic component of the dressing. We also mix in tangerine zest and ground fennel seed, which give the vinaigrette a suprising complexity.
Forget bottled Italian dressings—if you want a vinaigrette that actually tastes like fresh herbs, you have to make it yourself. Our herb vinaigrette starts with olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, and garlic, and the herbal flavor comes from tons of fresh parsley and basil and just a pinch of dried oregano.
When it comes to creamy dressings, I don't think you can beat a classic Caesar. Caesar dressing is basically flavored mayonnaise—it starts just like our two-minute mayo, but with Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and anchovies thrown in. Anchovies are actually a modern addition to the Caesar (the original just had Worcestershire), but we think it's an essential part of the recipe.
Growing up in the Midwest, ranch dressing was a fact of life. It almost always came from a bottle, but you can make a much better version at home. Our rich ranch dressing gets a wonderfully fresh flavor from parsley, chives, and dill, and just enough tang from a little sour cream and lemon juice.
I don't think there's actually anything French about French dressing, but at the Midwestern salad bar it always made us feel just a little fancier than if we went for the standard ranch. To recreate it at home you'll need lots of ketchup, which gets mixed with mayo, vinegar, sugar, and chopped onion.
Can't decide between French or ranch? Just mix equal parts of each to make a dressing with the sugary, ketchup-heavy flavor of French and the herbal notes of ranch. Both dressings are fairly tangy, so the combination definitely has a kick to it.
Before ranch, the go-to creamy salad dressing was green goddess. I tend to prefer it because of its intensely herbal character (which comes from tarragon, chervil, and chives) and slight Caesar flavor (which comes from anchovies). We start the dressing with homemade mayo, but perk it up with Greek yogurt.
This dressing walks the line between a vinaigrette and a dairy-based dressing—we start with a base of lemon syrup and mix in oil, lemon juice, and just enough buttermilk to make it creamy without weighing it down. Look for good, minimally processed poppy seeds, which have much more flavor than the standard supermarket varieties.
Ranch isn't the only buttermilk dressing around—for a steakhouse-style wedge salad, you can't forget blue cheese. Our recipe mixes the cheese with equal parts mayonnaise, sour cream, and buttermilk. We love the combo of funky cheese and tangy buttermilk.
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