Plant-based eaters are inevitably, one likes to think voluntarily, going to get into salads, and while all the vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and surprise ingredients combine for a good start — the finishing touch to any good salad is the dressing. Make the best bed imaginable, organic greens, an eclectic mix of healthy seeds, then smother it in something from a store-bought bottle and all the efforts maybe lost, overpowered, or chemically corrupted. Why not prepare a quick homemade salad dressing?
Surprisingly, there are a lot of us out there who have little to no idea how easy it is to concoct DIY salad dressings, and without a doubt, one time is enough to leave those bottles of Italian behind for good. Not only do homemade dressings taste better, with the luxury of tweaking them to personal preferences, but they allow for much more variety, especially for fellow vegans who can’t normally get most of the store-bought selections.
The Fatty Goodness
Most salad dressings have one of two bases, either oil or mayonnaise, and the difference is fairly easy to recognize: If it is creamy, then the likely culprit is mayonnaise, and if it’s oily, well, that seems even more obvious. While some variation from this can exist, ninety percent of the time, the basics of good salad dressing start here.
So then, for a plant-based eater and the mayonnaise thing, it’s easy enough to buy one of the vegan varieties (Just Mayo rocks) or it’s not overly challenging to just make vegan mayonnaise as well. As for oil, olive is the default and consistently delicious but safe bet, but things can get a little more complicated as there are many oils that can alter flavors and up the ante. Almond, coconut, sesame, macadamia and other extra virgin presses are all viable choices.
The Underlying Zip
After the fat comes the zippiness, which more or less comes down to vinegar, and regardless if the dressing has gone the mayo or oil route, this is what cuts the fat and helps sharpen the texture and flavor of the dressing. It doesn’t take much, but it’s important nonetheless. Like with oil, a little extra money goes along way for both taste and health purposes, and generally, a one-to-one ratio with fat feels right (but be aware if other acidic components, such as mustard, are being added).
Some favorite salad vinegars include balsamic, apple cider, rice, and red or white wine vinegar. Going for organic will mean stronger flavor and retained health benefits, apple cider vinegar being renown for its medicinal majesty. As well, it‘s possible to infuse vinegars (or oils for that matter) simply by adding some sprigs of herbs and spices (cloves of garlic, hunks of ginger), letting it all meld for a few days.
The Powerful Palate
With the primary ingredients in place, which truthfully can constitute an entire and delicious dressing on their own, it’s time to start shaping the direction of this particular topping. There are plenty of options here, including all sorts of condiments, as well as fruit juices. Syrups are on the table, as are nut and seed butters or pureed vegetables. Add them sparingly until the mixture feels right.
From the oft-utilized Dijon mustard to soy sauce and even ketchup (make your own!) for those Thousand Island fans, condiments aplenty appear in many of our favorite dressings. Citrus juices are a perfect standout, acidic flavor against the oil, but other fruit and even vegetable juices (try beets!) are amazing. Maple syrup or fruity reductions can set the sweet tone if that’s the idea, or something thick and creamy like tahini can change the whole complexion as well.
The Final Notes
Then, ultimately, the thing that elevates a humdrum dressing into something exceptional is the subtle tones of herbs and spices. They are what play lead to the rest of the ingredients, signaling to our tongues just what genre we are dealing in. It’s the herbs and spices that let us know this is an Asian-influenced coleslaw or a Mediterranean salad.
Despite the distinctions they make, choosing the right additions is not rocket science. We know that certain flavors — lemongrass, ginger, pepper — suggest Thai food or that familiar herbs — oregano, basil, thyme, garlic — put us along the southern coast of Europe. Just take the herbs and spices from the recipes of main dishes and have them interplay in the dressing as well.
Check out this fantastic list of dressing recipes to get this little DIY mission underway, and then, when the ratios start feeling natural, venture into new inventions, as of yet unheard of masterpieces, sauces that anyone would be happy to toss in a bed of greens.