the definitive guide to salads – part 2 dressing

salad & noodles-15 salad & noodles-18

Hands up any fellow acid addicts out there?

No I haven’t gone back to the 60s and started experimenting with tripping. I’m talking about being a vinegar junkie. Anyone else like to sneak a bit of vinegar straight up on a spoon?

If there’s one part of my pantry – apart from my spice box, that is completely non-minimalist, it would have to be my vinegar collection. Balsamic, sherry, red wine, white wine, tarragon, rice wine, champagne, chinese black vinegar. They’re all there. Sitting on my shelf.

I could make do with one vinegar, like I did in Spain – a lovely sherry vinegar. But to be honest I was itching for some variety in my salad dressings by the time I headed home. If I was staying for any longer I’m sure I would have caved and picked up a nice little old balsamic. I won’t be going minimalist on my vinegars any time soon.

I’m usually a bit more restrained with my oil. At the moment I have some inexpensive extra virgin for cooking with, a peanut oil for whenever I don’t want the flavour of olive or for frying, a good quality extra virgin for salad dressings and an expensive super intense peppery olio for drizzling.

stonesoup salad secrets – part 2 dressing

mix in the bottom of the bowl
Occasionally I make up a jam jar of salad dressing and keep it in the fridge but mostly I’m a made-to-order gal. I generally mix my dressing in the base of whatever bowl I’m planning to toss it in. Then I add the leaves gradually so I get the ratio of dressing to leaves right. If it’s a casual meal I’ll serve the salad in the mixing bowl. But if I’m feeling a bit posher, I’ll transfer everything onto a platter.

use a teaspoon for dressing for one person and tablespoon for more
When I started making salads for one I found myself always having way too much dressing. Not so good. Then I had the bright idea to use a teaspoon to measure things out. The simple things.

fresh is best
Most dressings taste best when freshly made. Although a week or so in the fridge won’t be the end of the world. Just remember to let it warm up a little before you use it so the flavour is more pronounced.

season the acid part first
Add salt to the vinegar or lemon juice and stir so it dissolves. The salt will then mix more evenly with the oil and be better dispersed through your salad.

taste (!)
There are so many variables in salad dressing that I find the most important step is tasting and adjusting as required. A little more oil if it tastes too acidic and sharp or a bit more vinegar / lemon juice if it tastes flat and oily. It takes a bit of practice but just trust your judgement and you’ll get there. Remember that it will be diluted on the leaves so it needs to taste quite punchy on it’s own. If you like it can help to use a leaf to dip in the dressing so you get the whole experience.

match your dressing to the leaves
Strongly flavoured, bitter leaves like radicchio demand intense dressings. I also find a little sweetness is good to balance the bitterness so caramelised red wine vinegar or balsamic are ideal. A salad of fresh herbs, on the other hand would be best with a simple white wine vinegar. Likewise I vary the amount of dressing depending on the type of leaves.

match your salad to the rest of the meal
A delicate fish will be best served with a fresh, light salad. A BBQ steak on the other hand demands a big beefy salad like rocket dressed with vinegar and mustard. A rich piece of pork belly is best with a really sharp crunchy salad. You get the picture.

don’t forget the garlic
I don’t often use garlic in salad dressings but sometimes I roughly squash a clove and leave it to infuse in the dressing for a while. The other evening I had people over for dinner and crunched down on something pungent in my salad. Discreetly removing the offending article I was so so relieved that I had been the recipient of me forgetting to fish out the garlic, not one of my guests.

salad & noodles-16 salad & noodles-14

the top 9 stonesoup salad dressings

Top 9? Why not round it out to top 10? Well I thought through my favourite dressings and this is what came up. I could have stretched it to one more but I liked the sound of 9.

I vary my ratios of oil to vinegar etc all the time. The recipes below should be taken as a guide only. Unless otherwise indicated they should make enough to dress a bag of prewashed leaves. But again it’s all up to you. As I mentioned in the intro, I usually use a mid range olive oil for salad dressings. You want good flavour but not to overpower everything.

i. caramelised red wine vinegar & wholegrain mustard
This is my favourite dressing at the moment, especially for a salad to accompany a big fryup for breakfast / brunch. I’ve been getting my caramelised red wine vinegar from Norton St Grocer. If you can’t find any regular red wine vinegar with a teaspoon of honey makes a good substitute.

1T caramelised red wine vinegar
1T wholegrain mustard
3T – 4T extra virgin olive oil

ii. aged balsamic & olive oil
An oldie but a goodie. I love the sweetness of balsamic that is so well combined with the vinegar during the aging process that it seems to be almost savoury. I should have ‘fessed up earlier. I actually have 2 balsamics on the go at the moment, an 8 year old for everyday and an old old vinegar which I think is 40 years old for special occasions and drizzling. I have been known to make a 1:1 oil:balsamic dressing if I’m in the mood for something really punchy. But the 1:2 below is more common. Classic to dress peppery wild rocket.

2T aged balsamic vinegar
4T extra virgin olive oil

iii. tarragon vinegar & dijon mustard
I love tarragon vinegar, it tempers the flavour of fresh tarragon and gives an interesting twist. To make your own, just shove 1/2 bunch tarragon in a bottle of white wine vinegar and allow it to sit for a few weeks. It will keep for ages. This dressing is also lovely with a regular white wine or Champagne vinegar.

1T tarragon vinegar
1T dijon mustard
4T extra virgin olive oil

iv. lemon juice & white wine vinegar
If your’e in an indecisive mood, this is the dressing for you. Sometimes I find lemon juice dressings to be a bit too ‘lemony’ without being sharp enough, this is where the wine vinegar helps.

1T lemon juice
1T white wine vinegar
4T extra virgin olive oil

v. onion & wine vinegar dressing
This is a lovely hearty, almost meaty dressing. I love it to dress a salad of warm lentils but it’s also good on leaves. This one keeps well in the fridge which is just as well since it takes a while to make. I LOVE how the onions soak up the vinegar and give little acidic bursts of freshness.

1 large brown onion, finely chopped
250mL (1C) olive oil
60mL (1/4C) sherry or other wine vinegar

Heat oil in a small saucepan and add onion. Simmer over a low heat until onion is soft but not brown. Remove from the heat and add vinegar and season. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes for the onions to soak up the vinegar.

vi. tahini lemon dressing
Inspired by Sam & Sam Clarke of Moro Restaurant and CookbookCookbook fame. I originally discovered this dressing for a roast pumpkin and chickpea salad but it’s lovely as a sauce for fish or even to dress a salad with lots of crunchy greens like snowpeas or fresh asparagus. Haven’t yet used it to dress normal leaves.

1 clove garlic, finely pounded
4T lemon juice
4T tahini
3T water
2T extra virgin olive oil

vii. simple lemon juice
This is easily my most minimalist salad dressing. Forget about the oil and just squeeze lemon juice over. Good with a simple salad of tuna and mixed leaves.

viii. the token creamy dressing
I’m not the biggest fan of creamy salads. Something about the way the dressing doesn’t look right on the leaves. On potatoes it’s another story. This dressing also doubles as a sauce for fish or chicken. Again the quantities below make a bit over a cup of dressing which will be way more than you need to dress a bag of leaves.

2/3C whole egg mayonnaise
1/3C natural yoghurt
1 -2T lemon juice
1/2 small clove garlic, crushed, optional

ix. caper dressing
Another cooked dressing, this is great for main course salads that have fish or cheese starring in them. Adapted from a salad that appeared ages ago in Australian Gourmet Traveller. I’ve made it with and without the chives and both are good. IT might feel a bit weird t o be cooking the parsley but it adds a whole different difficult-to-articulate-dimension to the salad.

¼ C extra virgin olive oil
½ bunch flat leaf parley, leaves picked
½ bunch chives, finely chopped
1T capers in salt, well washed
2T lemon juice, or to taste

Place parsley leaves in a strainer and pour over boiling water to blanch. Refresh under cold water then squeeze dry and chop finely. Place in a small saucepan with capers and remaining oil and heat until it starts to sizzle. Remove from the heat and stir in lemon juice and chives and season.

Elsewhere – Cafe Sopra Potts Point on eat|shop|drink


  • Your dressings all sound great! My friend Mary makes a great salad with spring greens where she tosses the greens in a good quality olive oil, then squeezes on fresh lime juice and the tiniest amount (literally drops) of red wine vinegar, with plenty of salt and pepper. I love the flavor of lime with the greens!

  • I’d really like to know what brand olive oils, vinegars you use and recommend. We have side salads most nights and the one thing I hadn’t considered is matching dressing to the leaves. Am loving your “definitive guide to salads” – thank you!

  • The best example of “taste(!)” I can think of is making the dressing for a thai salad: lime juice, brown sugar, chilli, and fish sauce. Everytime I make this it tastes different, but that’s why it’s interesting.

  • I love vinegars too. And other acidic things – there is always a good supply of lemons and limes (in season) in my fruit bowl! My kids are completely addicted to the very nice balsamic vinegar and are willing and able to drink it by the spoonful. In fact the very expensive balsamic is the only thing that gets ‘hidden’ away from them…chocolates, cakes etc are all within easy reach and never a problem with over indulging. But if I leave the bottle of balsamic sitting on the bench when they are eating dinner, a third of the bottle can quite easily disappear. We often just drizzle it over the salad – the really good balsamic does not need oil to balance the acid…or perhaps it is just that we love the acid (?!)
    I must try your 9th salad dressing…sounds rather unusual and interesting.

  • This is great, Jules. I have a fridge full of veg and marinated goats feta, and am planning to experiment with a little salad idea I’ve had – think rocket leaves, shaved courgette and broccoli sprouts, mixed with a pan-fried combo of sweetcorn, chives, shallot and green capsicum, all topped off with chunks of the cheese, roasted cashews and an as-yet-undetermined dressing. So your caper dressing is so timely, as I think it may be the one! If all goes well you will see said salad on my blog in the near future… :)

  • Great list. I always prefer to dress a wooden bowl – just wipe the dressing around it – and then toss the salad in it- it prevents over dressing a salad.

  • Lovely post, thank you. Another critical success factor for salads is mxing the dressing through the leaves thoroughly enough – more mixing than you ever thought you could need! I do this with well-washed hands for small salads and with my salad spinner for large volumes of salad. After I’ve dried the leaves, I empty out the water and pour on the dressing and re spin. The spinning motion tosses the dressing through perfectly and extra dressing falls to the bottom. Okay, there is some more washing up to do but hey, you are probably doing some washing already for a big meal. Works for us!

  • Fantastic post, Jules. We here in California love our salads. So I have a basic dressing I love, but have been at a loss for what else to do. This is perfect!

  • thanks kalyn
    funny I use lime in dressings for asian food but had never thought to use with red wine vinegar- will have to try this out

    glad you’re enjoying the salad guide. as for brands I think you’re better off exploring what’s on offer where you shop rather than trying to track down the brands I buy. I usually find you get what you pay for so choose the best you can afford.

    you’re so right. the thai’s are all over the taste part – aknowledging that your ingredients are always going to be slightly different

    spice & more.
    I love that you have to hide your balsamic from the kids. that’s the cutest.

    sounds like you’ve got a lot going on with that salad. hope the caper dressing can bring it all together. look forward to reading about it soon

    hey ed
    I have a thing about wooden bowls soaking up old flavours but maybe you’re onto something there

    thanks for your insights. I’ve been guilty of undertossing my salads in the past. never thought to use the salad spinner to do the tossing work as well. brilliant.

    Thanks LPC. I fondly remember many a good salad from my time living in California

  • Since salad is an absolute summer staple in our house it’s great to find a range of dressings – although I’d have to add a fattoush dressing as it’s this summer’s stand out salad! Never thought I’d be plowing through pomegranate molasses in quite such quantities, but oh, yum yum yum!

  • Great dressing ideas Jules! My go-to simple dressing is lime-infused olive oil mixed with caramelised balsamic vinegar. Brings a boring garden salad to life!

  • KT
    You’re the second person to talk about using lime in their salads. I need to get onto this.

    I haven’t made fattoush in ages, and have a bottle of pommegranate molasses in the cupboard (with all my vinegars!) need to get onto that

    You know I haven’t tried apple cider vinegar. thanks for giving me an excuse to fuel my vinegar addiction

  • wow lots of great ideas – the simple lemon juice one is a favourite easy option of mine too – I have a little whisk and bowl that I often use for dressings – I love your garlic idea – it hasn’t been the same since my garlic crusher broke so I must try this – I confess I am not into leaves but love to dress lots of vegetables

    and I am in awe of your photo of the jam jar of dressing – I just cannot photograph glass and love seeing others do it to give me hope!

  • I was taught to add oil directly to the salad first (and toss) to coat which would keep the acid from making the taste too “sharp,” as you say. Have you heard of this? I like it, and it has made the difference in my simple dressing.

  • Hi Jules

    Any ideas for some Asian Dressings please? I heard someone say something about Mirin, Sake, Soya Sauce and Sugar, any ideas? Sounds delish.

  • Love the dressings Jules. Years ago I use to make one with a non flavoured oil, white vinegar, garlic and 1 tsp sugar. The garlic was crushed sprinkled with salt and chopped fine. I would mix it in a jar and it kept in the fridge for ages but cannot remember the quantities for each ingredients, can anyone help please.

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