Veggies are not always the enemy. Even for a diehard meat lover, a bowl of fresh seasonal greens, with their vibrant colours and myriad textures, can be a real treat. The trick, however, is to create a unique flavour profile that makes it hard for you to resist digging into it. This is where salad dressings step in.
Often, as we are about to toss up a bowl of salad, we get stuck at finding a good dressing to team the veggies with. As a result, we either change our mind about having a salad or turn to the most convenient choices – mayonnaise or lemon juice (or the bottled variety). Yes, these are tried and tested, but there are plenty of other ways to spruce up those greens.
Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver says on his website, “In my opinion, the most important part of a salad is the dressing. It is all very well, saying everyone needs to eat more salad, fruit and veggies, but it should be a pleasure, not a chore. By dressing a salad you can make it delicious, meaning you want to eat it rather than feel that you have to.”
A good dressing is one which works effortlessly to enhance the flavours of the various ingredients in the salad. There are no set rules here and you can go all out to mix and match different flavours as per your preference. But the only point you need to remember is to add the dressing to the veggies just before serving. Doing so will help you retain the crunch of the vegetables without making them go all soggy.
Anupam Banerjee, Executive Chef of The Ritz-Carlton Bangalore, says, “Salad dressings can either make or break your bowl of greens. It is not difficult to whisk them up at home. These days the supermarkets are stocked with different kinds of oils, herbs and spices, leaving you with plenty of options to play with, such as cold-pressed oils, cherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs, spice mixes, etc.”
You can choose to make your dressing creamy, citrus-based, mustard-based, yoghurt-based or opt for vinaigrettes to keep it light but with a distinct punch. It is always advisable to take your time in mixing the ingredients well, for which you could use a whisk, a hand blender, or even a glass jar to shake things up.
Chef Vikram Khatri of the popular Pan-Asian restaurant Guppy by ai says, “A salad dressing should be a combination of sweet and sour. The trick is to get the flavours right. Just keep a basic vinaigrette handy, it will save you a lot of trouble. Based on the seasonality, you can experiment with different flavours. For example, right now, I would like to toss up a salad of plums, sundried tomatoes, cheese, eggs, capers and jalapeños with a dressing of mustard, ginger and green tea.”
Here are some interesting options to make your bowl of greens delicious –
1. Flavoured and Infused Oils
This is the quickest and the most convenient way to boost up the flavours in your salad. All you need to do is slightly warm the oil in a pan, add in herbs and spices and stir for a few minutes. Turn off the heat, let the oil cool completely and transfer the oil to a tall glass jar and let it stand for the flavours to infuse. You can also use garlic or shallots, by slightly roasting them and then mixing the pulp into the oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the popular choice, but you can also experiment with pumpkin seed oil, raisin oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, rapeseed oil, etc.
“You could infuse cinnamon and star anise in the oils to turn up the spice factor,” advices Chef Banerjee.
This requires a little whisking effort, but the result is delicious. A vinaigrette is an emulsion of salad oil and vinegar, along with herbs, spices and seasonings as per your choice. There are different kinds of oils and vinegars you can experiment with to make your own vinaigrette. In vinegars, you can choose from balsamic, apple cider, red wine, white wine, rice, raspberry and sherry; and amongst oils, you can opt for peanut oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, etc.
According to the traditional recipe, the ratio of oil and vinegar is three is to one. You really need to whisk both the ingredients well, and serve it immediately because, due to its unstable nature, keeping it for a longer period of time could separate the oil and vinegar into separate layers.
A little bit of cheese and it makes everything taste good, wouldn’t you agree? While blue cheese dressing has been the most popular one in this category, you can also cut down on the richness (and overpowering flavour) and opt for milder cheeses such as parmesan, cheddar, feta and the like. Some recipes also call for a cheese vinaigrette, and you can add in some oregano and basil for Italian flavours.
I love to make a cream cheese dressing for a salad of broccoli, babycorn and mushrooms, and it tastes delicious. Here’s the recipe: take 50 gm cream cheese, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp olive oil, and ½ tsp sugar or honey, and whisk all the ingredients well using a hand blender. Add seasonings as per your choice and use it to toss up your greens. I like to throw in some dill to add to the taste.
Some of the most popular salad dressings are made using mayonnaise as the base such as Caesar’s, Thousand Island, Ranch, Louis, Russian etc. It works beautifully, lending a creamy finish and makes you love your greens. But the store brought variety doesn’t qualify for what you could call a healthy dressing as they are filled with preservatives and other chemicals. So what you could do is whip it up at home. No, it is not difficult and you can do it in few simple steps.
Yoghurt is not just a healthier option but a great way to add creaminess to your bowl of salad. Take a few minutes to make hung curd before you start to whip up the dressing. Just place the yoghurt in a muslin cloth, tie it up, and let it hang for 30 minutes so that the water separates out.
You can make a refreshing tzatziki, a Greek dressing made using hung yoghurt, garlic, finely chopped cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, and dill. You could also make other interesting flavour combinations using yoghurt such as lemon and parsley, ginger and honey, or even add in tahini for a nutty flavour. Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds and popularly used in Middle East and Mediterranean cuisine.
This category of plant-based milk, which has recently garnered much attention across the globe because of the vegan movement, can be used in place of dairy to make a whole range of dressings. How do you get your hands on nut milk? Well, make it at home! You can use peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and even hazelnuts and macadamia nuts to extract the milk. And it doesn’t require much effort either.
Here’s an easy recipe for almond milk: take 250 gm almonds and soak them in water overnight or for 2 days. Transfer them to a blender and add 3 cups of water. Blend well, so that you get a fine meal. Strain the almond meal and squeeze out all the milk. You can add some sweeteners if you like and it’s ready.
Nut milk has a distinctive nutty flavour and creamy texture, and you can add in various herbs and spices to make your choice of dressings.
Seasonal veggies are naturally sweet and nutty in flavour, so while making dressings, adding a little zing could transform your salad into a scrumptious treat. While honey-mustard is one of the most common dressings, you could also experiment with kasundi (the local favourite in Bengal) or opt for Dijon, English mustard, etc. If you are feeling a little adventurous, you could also replace the mustard with wasabi!
The pungent mustard pairs well with bitter veggies as well as green leafy veggies. You can, of course, tone down the nasal-clearing flavour by whisking it with oil, citrus, and some herbs and spices.