“The perfect dressing,” Julia Child wrote, “is essential to the perfect salad.” Far be it from us to quibble with the queen of cooking, though we might venture even further: A really sensational dressing can take an otherwise basic bowl of greens, grains and seasonal vegetables and transform it into something downright swoony.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. Shake up a batch of one of these dressings in an empty jam jar and stow in the fridge at work or at home (they’ll keep for about a week). But don’t stop at the bowl of greens. Use them as a dip for crudite, spread on sandwiches, or toss with lightly steamed vegetables.
In a pinch, we’ll pour oil and vinegar straight into the bowl. But with five extra seconds, something magic happens. Dijon mustard thickens the classic vinaigrette and lends creaminess, while garlic or shallot add an assertiveness that makes the salad seem that much more kicky. Got fresh herbs? Toss them in, too.
(Image: Bon Appetit)
Ranch dressing, aka the way to get anyone to eat a plate of carrots and celery, is even better when it’s homemade, and requires little more fuss than opening a packet. Whip together buttermilk and good mayonnaise, garlic, and a handful of chopped herbs, and drizzle over a wedge of cold iceberg lettuce.
Lemon Tahini Dressing
It may well be its tahini dressings that are responsible for the popularity of New York’s Souen, a macrobiotic restaurant with legions of omnivore fans. Nutty, rich sesame paste brightened with lemon is a stroke of genius atop just about anything, but the lends itself to further experimentation. Try adding smoked paprika, fresh dill or miso.
Assertive garlic and the round saltiness of anchovies are classic flavors in this Caesar, but hold the egg and this familiar dressing lightens up and retains a clean, bright lemon flavor. Toss with romaine, of course, but also serve with a platter of blanched veggies.
Day lily-orange with a clean, bright flavor, carrot-ginger dressing is what makes a sushi restaurant bowl of iceberg lettuce so divine. At home, it’s just a matter of a quick turn in the food processor, and is a great use for a surfeit of carrots. Update the classic iceberg with romaine, avocado wedges and slivers of radishes.