The greatest treasure of early spring, in my opinion, is fresh salad greens of all sorts. I can hardly wait for my farmers market to open so I can see what varieties of arugula, baby chard, butter lettuce, and other greens will grace the salad bowl.
Fresh greens also inspire me to get a little more creative with my homemade salad vinaigrettes. This doesn't have to be complicated; sometimes just switching out the olive oil or the vinegar for something fresher will give you a really memorable result.
The Vinaigrette Formula
First of all, let's review the basic vinaigrette formula. The classic formula is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil. Put them in a cup, whisk them up, toss with your salad, and season with a little salt and pepper. It's a 1-minute cooking project.
Personally, I often go a little heavier on the vinegar, since I like a tangy salad dressing, and sometimes I add a smashed garlic clove, or knock off the rough edges of the vinegar with a pinch of sugar.
But that's the basic formula, and replacing just the oil or the vinegar with something else can really freshen up your salad without any more work. Here are some of my favorite substitutions.
Instead of olive oil use...
- Walnut or hazelnut oil - Nut oils are expensive, but I keep them in my fridge and they last a very long time. Replacing just a portion of the oil in a salad dressing with a nut oil gives a wonderful nutty flavor.
- Browned butter - I was won over to browned butter by Anjali's Recipe: Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apples, Hazelnuts & Brown Butter Dressing. Talk about nutty — and so good!
- Avocado - Blend a quarter of an avocado with your vinegar or other acid for a quick and creamy dressing.
- Silken tofu - Craving creamy but don't want any dairy? Tofu is another option. It makes a wonderful creamy vinaigrette when blended with balsamic vinegar.
- Tahini - Tahini, that blend of sesame and olive oil, is a great base for a salad dressing. Try it mixed with a little vinegar and orange juice.
Instead of vinegar use...
- Fruit vinegar - Sure, sure, this is vinegar — but part of my goal is to get you to branch out beyond rice vinegar and balsamic vinegar in your salads. Try a raspberry or mango fruit vinegar!
- Lemon juice or another citrus - Another classic element of a salad dressing, right after vinegar. I love lemon juice whisked into good olive oil.
- Fruit, pureed and strained - Try pureeing some overripe strawberries or raspberries, straining them, and whisking into some olive oil (or nut oil, if you want to really get fancy!).
- Pomegranate molasses - Pomegranate molasses is reduced, concentrated pomegranate juice (read more about it here) and it makes an amazing salad dressing — tangy, rich, fruity, and not too sweet (look for pomegranate molasses without added sugar).
- Mustard - Mustard also goes into many classic salad dressings, and it's an easy mix-in for any vinaigrette. Its strong tanginess, especially when paired with a bit of anchovy or a pinch of sugar to balance it, makes for a bracing vinaigrette.
What are your favorite salad dressing components? What would you add?
(Image credits: Erin Alderson; Anjali Prasertong; Tom Mueller/Truth in Olive Oil; Faith Durand)