Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Salad Week 2014: Salad Dressings

It's coming. This year's unrelenting chill will soon be over, and with its departure comes the arrival of spring produce. I'm really ready for some warmer weather and the fresher taste of seasonally available vegetables like really good asparagus, fresh peas, spring onions, etc.

I'm celebrating the arrival of spring with a week focused on salads. While I've done this before, this year's unique twist is that I'm putting the focus on the dressings (don't worry, there are salad recipes and ideas this week too). You wouldn't leave home without your outfit and neither should a salad leave the kitchen without its dressing. A good dressing pulls together and highlights the flavor of salad; it shouldn't smother or overwhelm it. Without dressing, a salad is just a bowl of naked vegetables.

Today's featured dressing is a low-calorie version of America's favorite salad dressing, Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing. I've substituted zippy nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream and mayonnaise, creating a dressing with just as much tangy flavor but with fewer calories in a whole batch than in a typical single serving of traditional ranch dressing. Later in the week, I'll share recipes for Blue Cheese Apple Cider Vinaigrette, French Dressing, Lemon-Tahini Dressing and, the mother of all salad dressings, Basic Vinaigrette. Along with those dressings, I'll also be sharing plenty of salad recipes featuring both seasonal and year-round ingredients.

To get this conversation started, here are a few tips I've picked up through the years for dressing salads. Please share yours in the comments. I'm always looking for new ideas.

1) Dress the salad in the kitchen. Serving dressing at the table allows you to provide options, but it doesn't dress the salad as well. We're likely to squirt as much dressing on an individual helping of salad as is needed to dress the entire bowl. Plus, then you end up with bites drenched in dressing and some without. Dressing the salad before it hits the table better integrates the dressing with the ingredients and better ensures you don't use too much dressing. On that note...

2) Don't use too much dressing. For most salads, the dressing should lightly coat the ingredients. Salad ingredients can have delicate flavors, and too much dressing will overwhelm them. For a large dinner salad that Chris and I will split, I usually use 3 to 4 tablespoons of dressing for the bowl.

3) Toss the ingredients carefully. For most salads, you want to be careful to not bruise the ingredients while you're tossing them with the dressing. If you're using salad tongs, which I normally do, just be careful you're not crushing everything. Some people like to toss salads with their hands, which also gives you a good feel for whether you've used enough dressing.

4) Don't dress the salad too far ahead of time. Salad dressings usually have acidic ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice that will react with the more delicate ingredients in the salad and make them wilt. If you dress your salad too far in advance and stick it in the fridge, it will be rather droopy by the time it hits the table.

5) Be creative. Salads are such an easy way to get creative in the kitchen. You don't really need a "recipe" for many salads. In fact, for several of this week's dressing recipes, I've stated what salad ingredients I tossed together, but didn't include a proper "recipe," since all you have to do is chop and combine the ingredients. Salads offer a vehicle for variety, experimentation and expression. Do you want a minimalist salad highlighting one or two key ingredients? Or a "chop" salad that uses up a bunch of stuff in the fridge? Similarly, dressings offer creative options--which vinegar to use, which seasonings, spicy or not, etc.

You'll see that for several of these tips I caveated my statements with "most" or "usually," since there are exceptions. Potato salad, for example, is fine to dress well in advance--in fact, I think it's preferable. And a kale salad can be manhandled just fine. In all things, consider what you want your end result to be and act accordingly.


  1. A fun idea for a theme week. I love salads, although I probably don't enough much attention to dressings. If asked, I suppose I would say honey-mustard is my favorite, although I can't remember the last time I ate it. I should probably know the answer to this, but what's your favorite dressing?

    1. While I like all the dressings I've written about this week, my favorite is probably the one going up tomorrow--basic vinaigrette--because it's the most versatile and works with pretty much any salad.