Bottled salad dressings from the grocery store typically contain an abundance of oil, salt, and/or sugar, as well as other ingredients (i.e., dairy, cheese, corn syrup, MSG, caramel coloring, thickeners, preservatives) we don’t want to put into our bodies if good health is our goal.
Making salad dressings at home from scratch is the most healthful way to go, and they’re really easy to make. There are many benefits to making your own salad dressing:
• You can make it taste the way you like it
• You know exactly what’s in it (and what’s not)
• You’ll use quality, whole-foods ingredients
In our efforts to lose weight, and maintain or regain good health, the salad dressing we use is an often underestimated condiment in our diet. Dressings are usually full of oil, which is the most fattening food there is (120 calories per tablespoon). If you're frustrated with the slow rate of weight loss, try going a month without oil; you may be amazed at the results. Salt, oil and sugar can also be health-harming in the excess amounts that are used in packaged foods.
Salad dressing ingredients can range from just one ingredient, such as squeezing fresh lemon, lime or orange juice on a salad, to a bit of mustard and vinegar mixed into a salad, or a combo of four or five ingredients when you’re feeling creative. There are no rules about plant-based salad dressings: as long as it’s pourable and tastes good to you, it can be salad dressing.
Making your own dressing is an area of cooking that many people find intimidating, but it's very easy: you just blend all your ingredients in a blender until smooth, and you’re done! Because homemade dressings are often made using fresh ingredients, they won’t keep as long as store-bought dressings (5 to 7 days tops), but this way you have the opportunity to make a different type of dressing each week if you like, which keeps things fun and interesting!
Salad Dressing roadmap
Use the 7 categories of dressing ingredients and guidelines below to come up with dressing combinations that appeal to you. Below these 7 categories, there are lists of vegetables, fruits and other ingredients to help give you some ideas of what to put into your dressings. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and when you find a combo you like, make a note of it so you don’t forget (I keep a small notebook in my kitchen for this). Having a short list of favorite homemade dressings can be a lifesaver.
You can see some of the dressings I came up with here. Store homemade dressings in the refrigerator, and always shake before using. I usually end up with about 1 cup of dressing.
1. LIQUIDS: Use water to thin out your dressing, and/or add in some citrus juice (lemon, lime, grapefruit), or a bit of 100% other fruit juice (apple, pineapple). Vinegars are also excellent additions. I like brown rice and apple cider vinegars best. (Watch out for seasoned vinegars, as they often contain sugar and salt.) Suggestion: 1-2 tablespoons vinegar, ¼ to ½ cup water or juice.
2. FRUIT: Almost any fruit can be used in salad dressing. I especially love berries, apples, pears, citrus, peaches, and mangos. Dates and raisins are also a great sweet addition. Suggestion: ¼ to ½ cup cut-up fresh fruit; 1 tablespoon raisins or 1 date.
3. VEGETABLES: Using soft, raw vegetables in dressings is ideal, such as cucumbers or tomatoes. Suggestion: ¼ to a ½ cup chopped. Roasting certain vegetables first, such as bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic, will result in a sweeter, more complex flavor (if you have the time).
4. FATS & BEANS: Using just a small amount of higher-fat plant foods can go a long way to create rich, creamy dressings. Try a couple tablespoons of avocado or tofu. Soft nuts are great, such as cashews, walnuts or pecans. Seeds such as hemp, sesame, sunflower, or pumpkin are also tasty additions. (Soaking nuts and seeds in water for 15 to 30 minutes before blending will result in a smoother dressing. Discard the soak water or retain it or a portion to use as part of the dressing.) Suggestion: 1 tablespoon of nuts/seeds. Cooked beans may also be used in place of the above fat options to achieve a creamy (although not as rich) result.
5. FRESH HERBS: I love fresh herbs in dressings! Try fresh basil, parsley, cilantro, scallions, chives, oregano, or tarragon. Suggestion: 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped (or less for more lively herbs like oregano, rosemary and tarragon).
6. DRIED HERBS & SPICES: Dried herbs and spices are delicious, too, such as dill, an Italian herb blend, chili powder, granulated onion and garlic, curry powder, and cumin. Really, any kind of dried herb, spice, or blend can be added to a dressing. Suggestion: Start with ¼ teaspoon, and work up if you’re not sure how much to add.
7. ZING! Add a little kick to your dressings with the addition of some freshly minced onion, shallot or garlic. Suggestion: 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion or shallot or ¼ to a ½ teaspoon minced garlic. Additionally, you may like to add 1 tablespoon of prepared mustard (Dijon, German, or stone-ground), ¼ to ½ teaspoon of freshly minced ginger or citrus zest, a jalapeno (or other) pepper, or some ground black pepper.
The ingredients you can use are endless!
Pretty much any plant food that can be blended can be used in a salad dressing. This list does not include every single option, but it includes the ingredients I have used in dressings and that are also easily found in stores. They are to be used raw unless noted otherwise.
100% fruit juice (apple, pineapple, mango)
Citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, grapefruit)
Vegetable broth (homemade)
Vegetable juice (homemade: carrot, celery, beet)
Vinegar (apple cider vinegar, brown rice vinegar, balsamic)
Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)
Citrus flesh (grapefruit, lemon, lime, oranges, tangerine)
Greens (spinach, arugula)
Fats and beans:
Beans/legumes (cooked) (black, garbanzo/chickpeas, lentils, lima, navy, white, cannellini, pinto)
Nut butters (almond, tahini/ground sesame seeds)
Seeds (hemp, poppy, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)
Soft nuts (cashews, pecans, pistachios, walnuts)
Mild flavor (chives, parsley)
Medium flavor (basil, cilantro, dill, mint, sage, thyme)
Strong flavor (oregano, rosemary, tarragon)
Dried herbs and spices:
Garlic (granulated, powder, minced)
Green herb blends (like Italian seasoning)
Mustard (seed, powder)
Onions (granulated, powder, minced)
Ginger (fresh or dried)
Jalapeño peppers (or other hot peppers)
Minced fresh garlic
Mustard (Dijon, German, stone-ground)
Onions (red, yellow, sweet, shallot, green/scallions)
Seaweed (kelp powder, dulse)
If you have any favorite dressing ingredients, or dressing combos, that you'd like to share, please comment below. Thank you!