Seriously Asian: Asian-style Dressings

Chichi Wang

If you're looking for a change from your typical mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil vinaigrette, consider introducing some ingredients from the Asian pantry into your dressings. Here are 10 tips to get your creative, salad-making juices going.

  1. Instead of balsamic, red wine, or sherry vinegar, try rice vinegar. Rice vinegar is often less acidic than other types of vinegar (around 3% acetic acid vs. 5 to 8% for others), so you should omit the water called for in many standard vinaigrettes, or increase the ratio of vinegar to oil.
  2. In lieu of lemons, lime juice adds a refreshing kick.
  3. Though I'm happy to use any mustard that tastes good, various brands will sell Asian or Chinese hot mustard, sometimes labeled as "oriental," which is much stronger than a typical Dijon-style mustard. A little bit goes a long way
  4. Miso makes a savory-sweet base for thicker dressings. When paired with rice vinegar, the mild sweetness of miso contrasts well with the subtle tartness of vinegar. It's also very useful as an emulsifier, giving you stable dressings that won't turn greasy.
  5. To add aromatics as well as seasonings, grated garlic and ginger are fine additions to dressings.
  6. Birds eye chilies, common in much of Southeast Asian cookery, add a nice level of spiciness to your dressings. In a pinch, use jalapeno instead.
  7. Replace some of your oil with toasted sesame oil, but be sparing. Going 100% sesame oil will overpower all but the most assertive greens.
  8. Grapeseed or canola oil, are a good neutral tasting base that won't compete with Asian ingredients the way olive oil can.
  9. Choose a high quality, light soy sauce. Soy sauce and sesame oil are natural partners, but soy sauce can also replace part of the vinegar for other kinds of vinagrettes.
  10. Make fish sauce the highlight of your dressing, and build your flavors from there. Fish sauce pairs well with lime juice, and the umami-laden taste of anchovies will add pleasing pungency to any dressing.

As to what to dress once you've got your vinagrette, try using the dressings with raw, steamed, or panfried vegetables, or skip the vegetable option altogether and use them for your tofu, seafood, and meat entrees. Strongly flavored dressings pair well with spicy, assertive greens like arugula, dandelion, mustard, or Japanese Mizuna.

To get you going, here are three Asian-style dressings.

What about you? What do you put in your dressings?

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