The Only Five Salad Dressings You Need

I have no problem picking up a store-bought rotisserie chicken or a jar of pasta sauce, but the thing I am religious about making from scratch…

…is salad dressing. I find it’s one of those basics where the most minimal effort yields maximum deliciousness, lifting up salads and vegetables with an acidic brightness that their bottled counterparts just can’t match. You don’t even need a massive amount of dressing recipes in your culinary repertoire — for the most part, these are the five I use over and over again.

All-Purpose Vinaigrette
When I refer to “a simple vinaigrette” in my quick dinner posts, this is usually what I am talking about. I would say some version of it is on my dinner table 90% of nights. The formula for it comes from The Silver Palate, one of the first cookbooks I ever owned. I was so young I didn’t even know that dressing came in anything other than a bottle with Paul Newman’s face on it. I love it because it’s so flexible — you really can’t go wrong using any vinegar and any herb you have on hand.
To make: In a small jar or measuring cup, shake or whisk 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup vinegar (red, white, white balsamic, sherry), 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, salt and pepper, fresh chopped herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, dill, basil). Once mixed, shake or whisk 1/2 cup oil (1/3 cup if you like your dressing more “aggressive”) into jar in steady stream until emulsified. (Vegan)

I use this interchangeably with the above All-Purpose — but usually when I want to add brightness without adding too much flavor.
To make: In a small jar or measuring cup, shake or whisk 1/4 cup lemon juice (from about 1 1/2 lemons), 1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I love Grey Poupon), 1 1/2 teaspoon honey, salt and pepper. Once mixed, shake or whisk 1/3 cup olive oil into jar in steady stream until emulsified. (Vegan if you swap in sugar for honey)

Sesame-Soy Dressing
I use this dressing most frequently with slaws, when the main purpose is to cut the richness of a meal. It’s so bright and addictive. You can add herbs, too — chives, cilantro, dill — and absolutely substitute tamari for the soy sauce to make this gluten-free.
To make: In a small jar or measuring cup whisk together 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, squeeze of fresh lime juice, pinch brown sugar, 2 tablespoons minced shallot or scallions. Once mixed, shake or whisk 1/3 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil) into jar in steady stream until emulsified. (Vegan)

Classic Caesar
In our house, this is like fairy dust. Drizzle it on any salad — not just a Caesar — and you can count on a kitchen table triumph. Julia Turshen was the first to tell me to skip the raw egg (which most traditional Caesars call for) in favor of mayonnaise, which is, of course, just emulsified oil and egg. I don’t like mine super heavy on the garlic or anchovies, but if you do, you can up the garlic to two cloves and the anchovies to three fillets.
To make:
In a blender or food processor, puree 1 small garlic clove (minced), 1 anchovy fillet (drained), 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Creamy Herby Green Dressing
This is another dressing that is worth breaking out the blender for. I especially love it this time of year, when you have a surplus of herbs and when you want to double down on the green factor with greens or produce. (Try it drizzled over roasted beets or broccoli.) It’s also amazing served alongside grilled fish or chicken.
To make: To a blender, add 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup parsley, (roughly chopped), 2 tablespoons chives (roughly chopped), 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1/2 medium avocado, 1/4 cup olive oil 3 scallions (light green and white parts only, chopped), squeeze of honey or 1 teaspoon sugar, salt and pepper, and about 2 tablespoons of water. Process until it reaches a dressing-like consistency, i.e. creamy but not too thick, and pourable, keeping in mind you might have to add more water, one tablespoon at a time. (Vegan if you replace the yogurt with cashew cream, just use a little less, like 1/3 cup)

The Only Five Salad Dressings You Need

What did I miss? What’s your go-to dressing?

P.S. No-cook summer sauces and how to spin almost-rotten produce into gold.

(Photo by Christine Han for The Weekday Vegetarians.)