How to Make Salad Dressing: The Ultimate Guide

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How to Make Salad Dressing That Make Everything Taste Better

Knowing how to make salad dressing will transform the way you cook.

If you have one prepared in the refrigerator, you will have the peace of mind that you can make anything taste delicious.

Making a homemade dressings may seem like a lot of work with your busy lifestyle. But, with a simple recipe, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make a homemade dressing that you can then use throughout the week.

You will love healthy homemade dressings because:

  1. They are simple to make

  2. They make your dishes taste like they came from a fancy, expensive restaurant

  3. They are more healthy than store bought dressings

  4. They can be made ahead and stored for meal prep throughout the week

This is your ultimate guide for learning how to make salad dressing.

This guide will teach you how to make salad dressing and everything in between.

So, let’s get started!

What Makes a Homemade Dressing Healthy?

For the most part, if a dressing is homemade, it is healthy. It won’t contain preservatives and additives found in store bought dressings.

A dressing must follow the below guidelines to be considered healthy:

Contains no processed ingredients or additives – No soy lecithin, high fructose corn syrup, sugar and other processed additives that make store bought dressings shelf stable for years. Also, no processed oils like canola or vegetable oil. These have been refined, removing some of their nutritional value.

Have minimal or zero sugar – Excess sugar consumption is linked to diabetes, obesity, and heart disease (Source: Harvard University). If a dressing needs a hit of sweetness, natural sugars like honey or maple syrup are used in low amounts.

Contain real food – In general, healthy dressings are made of real food that are made from just a few or less ingredients.

Types of Salad Dressings

There are generally two types of dressing textures: creamy and smooth (or vinaigrette).

All dressings are a balance of fat (typically oil) and acid (typically vinegar or citrus).

Creamy Dressings

When a creamy ingredient is added to this fat and acid mixture, the dressing has a, you guessed it: creamier texture. Yogurt, mayo, tahini, blended vegetables, and egg yolks are the most common of these creamy ingredients. We opt for healthy dressings that don’t use processed mayo.

Vinaigrette Dressings

If no creamy ingredient is added, the dressing will have a smoother texture. Most of its body is a result of the oil in the mixture. These are your more traditional vinaigrette dressings.

Check out this comparison below. The creamy dressing on the right has yogurt in it while the dressing on the left is just olive oil and vinegar.

Creamy versus Vinaigrette DressingBasic Apple Cider Vinaigrette compared to Garlic Yogurt Sauce.

 

Ingredients in a Great Homemade Dressing

As we mentioned, a dressing is basically a balance of fat and acid. However, there are plenty of other useful ingredients that are added to dressings. Let’s take a look at the core dressing ingredients.

Always Required Ingredients

Acid

Acid gives a dressing it’s bright and and tangy taste. This is perfect for balancing bitter salad greens. The most common acids used in dressings are vinegars and citrus.

Fat

Balancing out the acid with fat will thicken the dressing and generate a more full-bodied mouthfeel. Fat will also pronounce the other flavors. Oil is the most common fat used in dressings. Tahini, avocado, and mayo are some other typical types.

Your fat ingredient will be one of the primary sources of calories in your dressings, especially vinaigrette (120 calories and 13 grams of fat in a tablespoon of olive oil). So, it’s important to not overuse.

Salt

Pretty much any type of food will have salt as a required ingredient. Salt enhances the flavor of foods. When a food tastes bland? One of the reasons may be because there isn’t enough salt on it.

I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. If you use soy sauce, you won’t have to add as much salt.

Sometimes Required Ingredients

Emulsifier

You know when a dressing is one consistent substance? It is emulsified. You know when you pull a vinaigrette out of your refrigerator and you can distinctly see the oil and vinegar separated? That is not emulsified.

Simple put, an emulsifier is an ingredient that helps oil and water stay together. Mustard and egg yolk are the most common ones. These are especially useful in vinaigrette.

Store bought dressings use soy lecithin to keep the ingredients together. We opt for healthier unprocessed options.

Alliums

Garlic and shallots are the most commonly used alliums (onions plant family) used in dressings. Scallions and chives are other commonly used ones. Alliums are loaded with flavor that will be given off in your dressing.

Fresh Herbs

Like alliums, herbs are aromatics that can really liven up a dressing. Toss in your favorite chopped up herbs to a dressing for a boost of flavor and freshness.

Optional Ingredients

Creamy Ingredients

To make a dressing creamy, swap out some of the oil for yogurt, Greek yogurt, Tahini, blended vegetables, or avocado. This will create a thicker dressing. If you’re watching your fat intake, this will also be beneficial.

Sweetening Agent

A bit of sweetness can cut through some of the fat and acid in a dressing to create a more balanced taste. This is personal preference. Opt for natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and agave.

Mixing Techniques

Blending, food processor, whisking, and shaking are all techniques to create a dressing emulsion (aka. consistent substance). You could make any of them work in most instances. However, some techniques are more appropriate than others depending on the dressing ingredients and expected final constitency.

Let’s look at when to use each technique starting with the most basic:

Technique #1: Shaking

Add all your ingredients to jar or a salad dressing shaker like this one. Shake for 20-30 seconds until combined.

Pros: Easy cleanup; one container for making and storing dressing

Cons: Will have to chop up fresh herbs and alliums if using; emulsion is least stable so you’ll have to re-shake whenever you want to use

When to Use: When your dressing does not contain herbs or ingredients that need to be blended.

Lemon Mustard VinaigretteLemon Dijon Vinaigrette

Technique #2: Whisking by hand

Add your ingredients to a bowl and whisk until completely mixed. Transfer to a storage container.

Pros: Creates a stronger emulsion than shaking without having to use or buy a food processor or blender

Cons: Will need to chop up fresh herbs and alliums if using; can’t use the same container to make and store dressing

When to Use: When you’re using a thick ingredient like tahini that can’t be shaken and the dressing does not contain herbs or other ingredients that need to be blended.

Technique #3: Food Processor

Add your ingredients to a food processor and process until combined.

Food processors and blenders (technique #4) can often be used interchangeably, but your results will be different. Food processors have sharp blades that are better at cutting or chopping solid, hard foods. I like this one.

Pros: Minimal prep work since processor already does the chopping; great for cutting or chopping solid food; strong emulsion

Cons: Creates a less smooth dressing than a blender; more difficult clean-up

When to Use: For hard, solid ingredients and minimal liquid. When a smooth consistency is not required.

Food Processor DressingHealthy Green Goddess Dressing

Technique #4: Blender

Add all of your ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth.

Blenders should be used when you want your end results to be smooth and uniform. Their blades are not sharp, but powerful. So, blenders are better at pureeing as opposed to chopping or cutting.

Pros: Creates a uniform, consistent and smooth dressing; strong emulsion

Cons: Requires some ingredient prep work unless you have a high powered blender like this one; more difficult clean-up

When to Use: For liquid ingredients and softer solids. This is typically a better option than a food processor for dressings.

What Blender Should I Buy?

The function of a blender is one of the only things that can’t be replicated without an appliance. Do you make or want to make smoothies, soups, dressings, purees, and/or nut butters?

Then, you’ll need a blender.

And, you’ll need at least a decent one.

Luckily, there is a blender for every budget. I write all about the best blenders at each price point and when to buy each in this list of the Best Blenders for Every Budget.

Storing Homemade Salad Dressings

Use the Right Container

If you’re like me, you hate cleaning up. So, make your dressings in the same container that you’re going to store them in if possible.

These 16 oz. mason jars are my absolute go-to. I use them for everything like pickles, dressings, sauces, and other leftovers. They are cheap, the perfect size for dressings, and look great.

If you are using a blender or food processor, check out these Weck jars for another classic looking option.

What is the Shelf Life of Homemade Dressings?

In any case, store your dressings covered and in the refrigerator.

Homemade dressings can last anywhere between 3 days and 1 month. The shelf life is noted on all of our dressing recipes.

How to Re-use?

For vinaigrette, remove from refrigerator about 20 minutes prior to use. This will allow the oil to solidify. Give it a good shake before using.

Creamy dressings will thicken up when cold. You can use them like this, but letting them warm up a bit will thin out the dressing.

Additional Tips for How to Make Salad Dressing

Keep Your Pantry Stocked

You’ll see some commonly used ingredients across many homemade dressing recipes. If you keep these ingredients stocked in your pantry, then you’re always 5 minutes away from a delicious and healthy homemade dressing.

Must Haves

  • Extra virgin olive oil (Fat)

  • Apple cider, red wine, white wine, or sherry vinegar (Acid)

  • Kosher salt (Salt)

Nice-to Haves

  • Garlic and/or shallots (Alliums)

  • Mustard (Emulsifier)

  • Yogurt (Creamy Ingredient)

  • Lemons (Acid)

Have a Plan and Make Ahead

Dressings store great in the refrigerator. Make a dressing at the beginning of the week so you can use it to spruce up dishes at a moment’s notice.

There are a few dressings in this list that last up to a month. These are your best friends. I like to make a big batch (2+ cups) of one of these and have it in my refrigerator as a backup in case I run out of another.

Need a Guide to Get You Started? Download My FREE Monthly Dressing Meal Plan!

What Will You Learn From This Meal Plan Guide?

  • How to make 5 dressings that use healthy ingredients, can be stored for a week or more, and take 5 minutes or less to make.

  • How to meal prep dressings so that you can turn 4 dressings into a month’s supply.

  • How to have more time, money, health, and delicious meals by mastering homemade dressings

How to Make Salad Dressing

Once you learn the process of making your own homemade dressing, you’ll never want to eat store bought again. Here are the basic steps to make a vinaigrette and a creamy dressing.

How to Make a Healthy Vinaigrette

Step #1. Select Your Ingredients

Pick Your Acid

  • Choose one: red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice

Pick Your Aromatics (optional)

  • Choose one or multiple: shallots, garlic, scallions, chives, fresh herbs, ginger

Pick Your Emulsifier (optional)

  • Choose one: mustard, egg yolk (preferably mustard because egg yolk may cause some foam)

Pick Your Sweetening Agent (optional)

  • Choose one: honey, maple syrup, agave,

Pick Your Fat

  • Olive oil is the best choice. You can also add avocado or sesame oil depending on the dressing.

Step #2: Pick Your Mixing Technique

In most cases, shaking in a jar will be the simplest option for vinaigrette. If you’re using aromatics and/or egg yolk, consider using a blender or food processor.

Step #3: Combine Your Ingredients

Combine 1 part acid to 2 parts oil. Add a pinch of salt and any other ingredients you may be using. Mix and enjoy.

Here are some simple vinaigrette recipe examples:

Lemon Mustard VinaigretteLemon Dijon Vinaigrette

How to Make a Creamy Dressing

Step #1. Select Your Ingredients

Pick Your Acid

  • Choose one: red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice

Pick Your Creamy Ingredient

  • Choose one: yogurt, Greek yogurt, blended vegetables, tahini, avocado

Pick Your Aromatics (optional)

  • Choose one or multiple: shallots, garlic, scallions, chives, fresh herbs, ginger

Pick Your Emulsifier (optional)

  • Choose one: mustard, egg yolk (preferably mustard because egg yolk may cause some foam)

Pick Your Sweetening Agent (optional)

  • Choose one: honey, maple syrup, agave,

Pick Your Fat

  • Depending on the creamy ingredient, you may need to add little or no oil. Some creamy ingredients like yogurt and tahini have a high enough fat content they double as the fat ingredient. If using oil, opt for olive, avocado, or coconut oil.

Step #2: Pick Your Mixing Technique

In most cases, blending or using a food processor will be the best option for a creamy dressing. In same cases, whisking may also work.

Step #3: Combine Your Ingredients

The ingredient amounts in creamy dressings is more flexible than with a vinaigrette. The best way to learn how to make homemade creamy dressings in by making one of the dressings below.

Simple creamy dressing recipe examples:

Tahini Sauce Homemade DressingTahini Sauce

My Favorite Thing About Homemade Salad Dressings?

I love the feeling of knowing that whatever I make, I can make it taste delicious if I have a homemade dressing meal prepped in the refrigerator.

If you know how to make salad dressing, it will give you the confidence of knowing that whatever you make, it will be tasty.

Tasty sauces and dressings really are a secret weapon for any cook.

Want More Dressings?

If you learn a few dressing recipes, you will have them in your cooking toolbox forever. Never eat a bad meal again!

Option #1:

Check out this list of 10 Healthy Homemade Dressings That Will Make Everything Taste Better

Option #2:

Download My FREE 1 Month Dressing Meal Plan!

What Will You Learn From This Meal Plan Guide?

  • How to make 5 dressings that use healthy ingredients, can be stored for a week or more, and take 5 minutes or less to make.

  • How to meal prep dressings so that you can turn 4 dressings into a month’s supply.

  • How to have more time, money, health, and delicious meals by mastering homemade dressings

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