10 delicious ways to dress your salads: Basic vinaigrette variations

Whether you like to dress up or dress down, there is an analogy here for salad creators.

Words: Kristina Jensen

We all know about those bold and sassy salad dressings that hit you hard in sweet and sour places. Strong statements on the taste front perhaps but such a dressing can distract your palate from the subtle nuances of the vegetables that make up the dish. Maybe you have experienced a salad suffering from what I call the ‘limp and floppys’? This is where oil and/or vinegar has completely saturated the greens leaving them with a texture not unlike plastic wrap.

You might get the impression that creating a good salad dressing is something only a master chef should tackle, but it is not a secret realm. All it takes is mastering a simple yet satisfactory base and experimenting from there.

This is a basic vinaigrette recipe and the base for all the recipes in this story. Vinaigrette has one rule: 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar or citrus juice.


½ cup of good quality olive oil (sunflower oil works well too)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp wine vinegar
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

On its own, this quick and simple vinaigrette goes very well with freshly-picked greens, or you can expand the basic recipe with just a small stretch of the imagination. The recipes I have included here each represent a unique taste explosion. By adding fresh herbs, different types of mustard, yoghurt, honey or even wine vinegar to the base, you can create all sorts of interesting flavours for your favourite salads. I like to use a blender to make larger quantities of a dressing but a wand or food processor will do just as well, or a basic vinaigrette can be ‘all shook up’ in a few seconds in a handy jar or bottle.

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Most salad dressings keep in the refrigerator for up to a week so if you are planning a large function or have a house full of guests, make up a double batch so that it’s always on hand. This way, the flavours also have longer to ‘mix and mingle’, producing a smooth, rounded dressing where no one ingredient necessarily dominates another. Specialty salad dressings also make terrific gifts, especially at short notice. A salad dressing in an attractive glass bottle is eye catching and appealing. The ingredients will separate somewhat over time but a quick shake will encourage them to merge and lift your taste-buds to new levels of salad satisfaction.


Replace lemon juice in basic recipe with lime juice. Add 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce and 1 tsp freshly grated ginger.


Add 1 tbsp liquid honey and 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard.


Add ½ cup Greek yoghurt, 1 tbsp chopped mint, the zest of a lemon and ¼ tsp of white pepper.


Add 1 garlic clove (crushed), the juice of 1 orange, ½ tsp chilli powder, ½ tsp cumin powder, 1 tbsp hot English mustard and 1 tbsp honey.


Add 2 tbsp basil pesto, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and 1 tsp liquid honey.


Add 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil and 1 tbsp finely chopped chives. Replace lemon juice in basic recipe with cider vinegar. Add 3 tbsp finely chopped mixed fresh herbs like parsley, mint, coriander, chives, oregano, marjoram, thyme or sage.


Add 1 tbsp grated Parmesan, 2 cloves of garlic (crushed) and 2-3 tbsp finely chopped rocket leaves.

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This is best made fresh and in the blender as it tends to curdle otherwise. Add ½ cup unsweetened yoghurt, 1 tsp curry powder and 2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice.


Replace lemon juice in basic recipe with ¼ cup of red wine vinegar. Add 1 clove of garlic (crushed), 1 tsp paprika and either 2 fresh tomatoes, peeled and de-seeded OR 1 tsp of tomato paste.


As long as you stick to the basic recipe, you don’t have to hold back if you are a person who likes a bit more of a zing to your dressing. Add more vinegar or citrus juice.

Different types of oils make a huge difference to the taste, and sometimes texture, of your dressing. If you like to experiment, try adding more creative ingredients including fruit pulp, roasted nuts, toasted sesame oil, mashed avocado, maple syrup, olives, anchovies, capers or fresh chilli.

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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