Thursday, February 2, 2012

Salad Dressing Boot Camp

We eat a lot of salads around here. Green, pasta, vegetable and fruit salads are generally easy to prepare, will feed a large crowd and in many cases, they're the perfect multi-purpose compliment to a simple main course. In my book, a pasta-based main dish is never complete without a fresh green salad to help balance out the rich flavors of a spicy marinara or creamy alfredo or carbonara.

So, why buy bottled salad dressings when they're so easy (and economical) to make? Don't get me wrong. It's not like I don't ever buy the prepared dressings at the grocery stores, but when I'm having a gathering of friends or family where a salad is on the menu, I always make two or three of my homemade dressings.

Basic Vinaigrette
(this is about as simple as it gets. The most important thing to remember is to always use a 3 to 1 oil to vinegar ratio)
  • 3/4 C Light Olive or Safflower Oil
  • 1/4 C Vinegar (cider, red wine, white wine or white balsamic vinegar are fine)
  • 1 Tbls Dijon Mustard
  • 1 Tsp Kosher or Sea Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Black Pepper
  • 1 Shallot, very finely minced
  • Pinch of Sugar
Whisk or blend (in a processor or blender) the vinegar, mustard, salt & pepper and sugar (if you use it). Slowly drizzle in the oil as you continue to whisk or blend.

Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Using the basic recipe, cut the dijon in half, replace the standard vinegar with a good balsamic and add 1 to 2 Tbls of your favorite honey. Trust me... You'll be amazed by what the honey does to this dressing.

Classic Caesar Dressing

Use the same amounts of oil and vinegar.
Use 1/2 of the mustard.
Add 1 Tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 large clove crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon anchovy paste. (I hate anchovies, but trust me; don't leave it out, because the paste is completely dissolved in the dressing and it's not fishy at all. It really isn't the same without it)

If you want a creamy Caesar dressing, add 1 egg yolk or 1 Tbls of real mayonnaise if you're worried about raw eggs.

I add about 1/4 Cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and some crispy fried Pancetta (Italian bacon) or American bacon, to roughly torn romaine lettuce and croutons and then I toss it all together at the table.

You can make a myriad of dressings from this one basic recipe. You can replace cider vinegar with balsamic or herbed vinegar, or citrus juices like lemon, orange and grapefruit. Substituting flavored or infused oils can add a richness and depth of flavor when using spicy, peppery greens like arugula or endive.

Adding a sweetener like brown sugar, honey or agave nectar can change the entire flavor profile of the vinaigrette and make it a bit more kid friendly too. You only need a pinch or two.

Experiment with different ingredients to see what you and your family prefer. Some combinations might not always be a huge success, but the ingredients are inexpensive and the prep time is quick, so you won't be wasting your time or your hard earned money if you need to make up a new batch.
One of the things that I love most about a creamy Bleu Cheese or Thousand Island dressing, is that they make me feel like I'm indulging in a guilty pleasure. Let's face it. Even when we make the decision to eat healthier, we still want to feel like we aren't depriving ourselves of everything good in life. A tablespoon or even two, of a creamy, rich dressing on a big bowl full of veggies can be very satisfying and in the grand scheme of things, doesn't really add that many extra calories, when it accompanies a lean meat or fish main course.

The base ingredient in most creamy salad dressings is usually sour cream, mayonnaise or some type of oil. In some cases, all three of these might be in one dressing. This is another place where I would encourage you to experiment. There is a multitude of ingredients that you can add to this basic mixture and come up with a huge array of flavors and textures that are sure to make a plain green salad or a bowl of fresh fruit, a new and delicious experience. And if you must watch your sugar or fat intake, there are ways to get the same creamy rich flavors, without all of the things that you aren't supposed to eat.

Instead of sour cream, try plain yogurt or some low-fat cottage cheese that's been whizzed around in a food processor or blender 'til it's smooth.

Instead of a cup of full-fat mayonnaise, try a low fat or fat-free version or a couple of teaspoons of a light vegetable or nut oil.

While some dressing recipes call for heavy cream to thin them out a bit, try a tablespoon or two of low-fat buttermilk or evaporated milk. (no, not the sweetened condensed milk ~ save that for some homemade fudge!)

Adding buttermilk will give a subtle sweetness and a slightly tangy taste at the same time. It's one of those "best of both worlds" ingredients because it's rich in flavor, but a low-fat version adds far fewer calories. Evaporated milk tends to have a less than stellar reputation and it really shouldn't. It's quite low in fat and it doesn't add any funky flavors of its own. It's also great in creamed soups, but that's another post for another day.

Mary's Thousand Island/Russian Dressing 

I basically begged for this recipe when a much loved local steakhouse was closing its doors after over 40 years of being in business. ( If it wasn't totally wrong on every level, I could probably eat this stuff with a spoon. lol) The chef was kind enough to give it to me and since the restaurant is now closed and no longer serving it, I guess I kind of consider it my own!
  • 1&1/2 C Mayonnaise
  • 3/4 C Heinz Chili Sauce
  • 3 Tbls Green Bell Pepper, finely minced
  • 3 Tbls Yellow Onion, finely minced
  • Kosher or Sea Salt, to taste
Process the onion and green pepper in a blender or food processor. Strain off all but a couple of tablespoons of the liquid that's exuded. It adds quite a bit to the flavor of the finished dressing. If you don't have a blender or processor, you'll need to mince the onion and pepper as finely as you possibly can, because you want them to be almost a pureed consistency. As odd as it might seem, this dressing really won't taste the same if they're too chunky. Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl until well combined, then cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. The longer you refrigerate this, the better it gets!

Mary's Garlic Blue Cheese Dressing
  • 1 C Mayonnaise
  • 1 C Sour Cream
  • 8-10 oz Blue Cheese, crumbled and divided
  • 1/4 of a Small Onion, grated with juices
  • 1 Small Clove Garlic, crushed
  • 1 Tsp White Wine vinegar
  • 1 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tsp Brown Sugar
  • Kosher or Sea Salt & Black Pepper, to taste
Vigorously whisk all ingredients, except 1/2 of the bleu cheese in a small bowl (or you can use a processor or blender) until smooth and creamy. You can add a bit of milk or cream to thin it out a little if you prefer. Gently stir in the other 1/2 of the bleu cheese, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For a twist on flavor, you can use the "base" ingredients and just change up some of the others a bit to make:

Creamy Cheddar and Bacon Dressing

Keeping all of the other ingredients the same, eliminate the Garlic, substitute 1 C Sharp Cheddar Cheese for the Blue cheese and add 1/4 C cooked, chopped Bacon.


Savory Ranch Dressing

Replace 1/2 of the Sour Cream with Buttermilk.
Eliminate the Cheese and Garlic.
Substitute your favorite Hot Sauce for the Worcestershire
Add chopped fresh or dried herbs.
(I use Chives, Thyme, Basil, Oregano and Marjoram)


Sweet Buttermilk Herb Dressing

Recipe HERE

I have tons of salad dressing recipes and I'm happy to oblige any requests, but with the basics that I gave in the recipes above, you should be able to take the ball and run with it. (notice the slight super bowl reference? LOL)  Enjoy!

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  1. This is awesome. Just in time for lunch and you site has really made me hungry. Thanks for the great recipes. Yummmm --

    1. Hi Alene! I hope there was something yummy to satisfy that lunchtime hunger! LOL Thanks so much for stopping by. Hope to see you around often!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for the follow and thank you for pinning this too! Stop by any old time... :~)

  3. I love making salad dressings. Thanks for sharing all your recipes! And, thanks for stopping by and following!
    Have a great weekend.

    1. Hi Lynn, You're very welcome! Thank you for visiting and for following. I hope your weekend is a fantastic one too!

  4. Great post. I love making homemade salad dressings. I just find them so much better than the store bought ones.

  5. Your salad dressing looks amazing I'll have to try it. I've just joined Linky and I'm going to follow you would you follow back. Pat

  6. These sound so great I am printing them out! I found you on Friday Friend & Follow. Come visit me at

  7. Hi Mary--I'm able to comment, now! I thought the threaded comments was a good idea, but it messed a lot of us up, so sad :'( Anyway, I heartily agree about your homemade dressings. I buy them a lot and make the occasionally, I'm always SO much happier with the homemade. I guess it ends up being a convenience thing. Hugs--I'm going to check out your g+ for dummies, too ;)

  8. MMmm some of those sound delicous. Thanks for sharing the recipes. :)

    I wanted to thank you for following me. :) have you seen my new place?? I hope you'll follow me there, stop by when you get a chance. Its very cute. :)

    I'm now your newest follower. :)

  9. What a wonderful variety!!! Everything from the most indulgent to the less sinful ... :)

  10. Hi Mary, how are you? What a lovely selection of dressings. They are all my favourites. I want to thank you so much for linking up each week to my "Thriving on Thursdays" linky party. You always have such fantastic ideas. The party will be starting again in just over 12 hours so if you get a chance, I'd love to see what you've been up to this week.

    Anne @ Domesblissity xx


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