Ah, salad. Growing up, I ate salad with dinner probably three out of five nights of the week. Nowadays, we don't eat salad quite so often (maybe once or twice a week), but we still enjoy it. Especially my husband, who grew up eating salad approximately zero nights of the week. Don't you just feel like it's a good meal if it included some fresh, crunchy veggies? I do. It's also an easy and easy-to-vary side dish. Paired with a lean protein like grilled steak or chicken and topped with homemade croutons, it's also a great main dish.
My favorite salad ingredients are pretty simple--some nice greens, spinach, a sprinkling of yummy cheese like parmesan or feta, fresh veggies like sprouts, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, corn, and green beans, other goodies like sliced strawberries, toasted almonds, homemade croutons and what-have-you...the variations are limitless. And while I know a couple people who eat their salads plain and eschew all types of salad dressing (weirdos), I prefer my salads dressed with a tasty dressing that complements the ingredients. There are dozens of varieties of dressing in my grocery store, and I imagine we're tried a dozen or so.
For years, I thought I was really something special for making Good Season Italian dressing from a packet--to me this seemed healthier and homemade than bottled dressing. I made a homemade raspberry vinaigrette once for my sister-in-law's birthday, and really enjoyed it, but it didn't occur to me that homemade dressing was something I could do all the time. Then, after I had knee surgery a year or so ago, a kind lady from church brought by a scrumptious meal. It was a standard-but-delicious pot roast, some rolls, and the fixings for a beautiful salad: field greens, walnuts, sliced berries, broccoli florets, and a homemade poppyseed dressing. I still thought the salad would be better with some bottled dressing, but wanted to give her an honest thank-you-for-everything, so I decided to try the dressing.
It was amazing. It was perfectly sweet and sour, slightly tangy, with a pleasant nutty crunch from the poppyseeds...a revelation. And while this woman has quite a reputation as a great cook, I fancy myself handy in the kitchen, too, and set about figuring out the dressing's ingredients. Once that was tackled, I went back to the raspberry vinaigrette. And I remembered that I had also made homemade Ranch dressing the summer before. And Greek dressing for a salad I took to a potluck once. And the Asian-Sesame-ginger dressing I'd made for a really scrumptious noodle salad. And I had made good Seasons Italian from a packet--I figured there must be a copycat recipe online to make my own at home. As the pieces fell together, I realized that all of my favorite dressings I had, at one point or another, made fresh at home. And if I had done it before, I figured there was no reason I couldn't continue doing so--most of the dressings are made up of things I always have on hand, sparing me not only the expense of bottled dressing, but also the preservatives and chemicals in the shelf-stable varieties as well.
So here are a few of my favorite recipes for salad dressings. Give 'em a try! You'll feel so proud of yourself and will have a great, truly fresh salad to boot. They keep in the fridge for a while--but don't expect them to last long--you'll eat them up before they go bad. These recipes also make less than you'll find in a store-bought bottle, so you'll use them faster.
1/2 c. mayo
2-3 Tbsp. sour cream
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1-2 tsp. poppyseeds
pinch salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
Whisk all ingredients except milk together, then add milk until dressing is desired consistency. Store in airtight bottle in fridge. Keeps for a week or more.
"Good Seasons"-type Italian dressing
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. dried basil
1 T. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. celery salt
Combine mix ingredients well and store in a baggie or other airtight container in the cupboard. For each recipe of dressing, shake together 2 Tbsp. of the mix, 2 Tbsp. of water, and 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar until well combined. Add 2/3 c. oil and 1 tsp. dijon mustard (helps emulsify the dressing) and shake, shake, shake. Shake immediately before using.
1 10 oz. jar seedless raspberry preserves
1 c. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 c. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Remove lid from preserves and melt slightly in the microwave, just so it's a bit more liquid-y. Whisk the preserves, mustard and vinegar together, then whisk briskly while drizzling in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Note: when you store this one in the fridge, the olive oil will solidify. I just microwave it for 15 seconds or so before using, or sit it on the counter for about 20 minutes to bring it to room temp.
ALSO, I usually make a half amount. This one is especially good on a salad with spinach, strawberries, toasted almonds, and feta.
1 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. sour cream or buttermilk (use sour cream to make a veggie dip, buttermilk to make a thin dressing, or use half of each to make a thick dressing, like I do)
1 clove of garlic, minced, or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. EACH salt and pepper
2-3 Tbsp. herbs of your choice
(I personally think dill is ESSENTIAL, along with thyme, onion powder, and oregano. I have also used chopped chives and finely chopped basil and enjoy those, too. When it's summer and I have these herbs fresh, I use them. But the dressing doesn't keep as long with fresh herbs as with dried. also keep in mind that fresh herbs aren't as potent, so you'll need more)
Mix everything together (I usually reserve some of the milk so it isn't too thin, then add it just until the dressing is how we like it), and let it sit in the fridge for an hour or so to let the flavors really come together. Made with fresh herbs, this keeps for about 4 days. Made with dried, it will keep for a week or more!