Better Than Storebought: DIY Salad Dressings

Healthy Salad Dressings
By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com

I love to accessorize, don't you? A hat, scarf or belt can make or break an outfit, just as a sauce, dressing, or marinade can make or break a dish.

Like everything else in my life, it all circles back to food--even accessories. For me, the perfect accessory for salads, cold meats, fruit plates, and even savory dishes is the dressing. It can be spicy, herbal, creamy, served hot or cold. I love them all. The trouble is that traditional recipes call for loads of fat in the form of oils or cream.

When you're cutting the fat in dressings, the trick that I have found is that the flavor has to come in with a loud punch to offset the smaller amount of oils and cream.

"Dressing" is a vague term that can be used to describe vinaigrettes, dipping sauces, marinades, and even flavored oils. Whatever you call them, they basically can be divided into two categories: vinaigrettes and creamy dressings.

Vinaigrette is a simple emulsified* sauce and can be a plain as a 3: 1 ratio of vinegar to oil. That sounds a little boring--and heavy. I like to reduce the ratio of oil and add some other ingredients from my pantry. Dijon mustard, grated carrots, chopped herbs, garlic, and pureed vegetables all add flavor and help the oil and vinegar stay nicely mixed.

For a basic but tasty vinaigrette that will accessorize shredded kale, spinach, or even a serving of grilled chicken, try my Garlic Dijon Vinaigrette.
*Chef's Tip: Emulsify means to combine two ingredients that don't like to stay mixed, such as oil and vinegar.

Is creamy more your fancy? While traditionally made with gobs of mayo and sour cream, creamy dressing can be made without them. Greek yogurt or non-fat plain yogurt do a nice job as stand-ins. I love the Greek yogurt because of the creamy texture and thickness. (If you don't eat dairy, try soft tofu.) Adding fresh herbs infuses the base of yogurt with color and provides a cooling taste. For spring, try my Creamy Fat Free Herb Dressing.

If you are looking for some extra heat, try adding a spice blend to a yogurt base. To 6 ounces of Greek yogurt, add 1 tablespoon of my Creole Spice Blend and you'll have a dipping sauce for pork, beef or chicken. You can also use it as a sandwich spread. (Not a fan of Creole spices? Experiment with what you already have on hand. You will use up your purchased spices and seasonings before they go stale and save money at the same time.)

Tips to make the perfect dressing:

  • If using olive, grapeseed or vegetable oils, make sure the oil has not gone rancid. Take a whiff, if it smells old and off, it probably has seen its last days. (Oil that is "off" smells distinctly like modeling clay.) To extend the life of your oils, store them in a dark cool space.
  • If using fresh herbs in a dressing, make sure you dry them thoroughly after rinsing them. Added water from the herbs might upset the balance of the recipe.
  • When making vinaigrette, it is important to slowly add the oil. If you dump it all together, your dressing will "break."
  • When dressing a salad, a little bit goes a long way. You should always toss the dressing into the salad not pour over. By tossing, you can coat more greens with less dressing.


Hungry for more? Try:

SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.