Salad dressings 101

Zoosh up your salad with these tips and 5 brilliant dressing recipes!

09 Nov 2009
salad dressing

A delicious dressing makes or breaks a salad. Whisking up one at home is easy and far better tasting than any store bought viniagrette. Plus this way you know there are no preservatives in the dressing and you can control how much sugar or fat you put in.


A basic vinaigrette has few ingredients, oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper , but will only be as good as the quality of your ingredients. Usually, the proportions are one part vinegar to three parts oil, but this can be varied according to your personal taste. Lemon or lime juice can be substituted for vinegar, in which case you should use one part lemon or lime to four or five parts oil. You can also use Verjuice in place of lemon juice or vinegar. Verjuice (available from leading supermarkets and delis countrywide) is made from unfermented grapes and adds zest to salad dressings, avoiding the tartness of vinegar and the sharpness of lemon juice and therefore enhances flavours rather than mask them.

Salad dressing tricks

Don't think you have to stick with red wine vinegar and olive oil when making a dressing, experiment with a variety of flavoured oils (peanut oil or rich olive oil) and vinegars (full red wine or raspberry). Used for cold and warm salads, dressing also make a handy marinade or basting for grilling. Ideally, vinaigrettes shouldn't be refrigerated as the oil congeals and can even turn rancid. If the oil does become cloudy, stand the bottle in a bowl of warm water for a couple of minutes to clear. If you're adding fresh herbs to your dressing, heat them gently in warm oil and strain before making the vinaigrette. This way, the herbs release more flavour. Freshly made salad dressing will keep one week at room temperature. It goes without saying that, unless you want to marinate your ingredients, salad dressing should be added just before serving.


There are dozens of variations on the basic vinaigrette theme and most cooks reach for two cloves of crushed garlic as first choice of flavouring. But there are other delicious ideas:

  • For a really strong mustardy flavour, eg, warm a bowl and add the mustard (Dijon, French or English). Beat in 45ml of boiling water, drop by drop. Add 125ml oil, again drop by drop, beating until thick and creamy. Beat in salt and pepper and lemon juice to taste. Add 30 ml chopped fresh herbs.
  • For nutty flavours, heat 30 ml olive oil with a handful of roasted hazelnuts and a few rosemary leaves. Allow the flavours to infuse and add a squeeze of lemon juice, freshly ground pepper and pour over salad leaves.
  • Sherry livens up a dressing. Whisk together 60ml olive oil, 10ml dry sherry and 10ml white-wine vinegar, finely snipped chives, parsley, small crushed clove of garlic, salt and pepper and shake 'em up.
  • Create an Asian dressing by adding tomato and ginger. Mix 90 ml of oil, 15 ml sesame oil, 30 ml soy sauce, 10ml sugar, three plum tomatoes (skinned, seeded and cubed), six spring onions, sliced and 15 ml grated ginger.
  • Believe it or not, beetroot makes a superb dressing. Liquidise a cooked, peeled beetroot and add to 300 ml vinaigrette. Shake and serve.
  • If you like it hot, combine 90 ml oil, 50 ml sesame oil, 30 ml vinegar, 15 ml soy sauce, chilli paste to taste, 15 ml grated ginger, salt and pepper and half a bunch of chopped coriander and mix well. This also makes a great basting sauce.
  • Balsamic vinegar makes wonderful dressing, mix 375 ml oil and 125 ml balsamic vinegar, 2,5 ml soy sauce, 5 ml sugar and 250 ml finely chopped basil and mix well.

What went wrong?

Sometimes, despite your most heroic efforts, things go wrong. If your dressing separates, it hasn't been whisked enough or has been allowed to stand. If the dressing is thin, it will still work but won't coat the leaves properly. Whisk again or add a dash or two more oil.

If your dressing tastes bland, it probably needs more seasoning or the dry herbs you've used have lost their flavour. Intensify the flavour by adding finely chopped onion, ginger, a drop or two soy sauce, chilli flakes and/or really fresh, slightly crushed mixed herbs.

Sometimes a vinaigrette is too acidic. That's becuse you're used too little oil or a cheap vinegar. Add more oil, but if the taste is still no good, throw the dressing away, get some good vinegar and start all over.

5 Salad Dressings

1. Thai dressing for vegetables

2. Mustard and yoghurt salad dressing

3. Caesar dressing

4. Oil-free salad dressing

5. Basil and hazelnut vinaigrette

Read more on: olive oil

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