Style Guide: Dressing The Perfect Salad

August 22, 2020

 

Let’s be real: when we’re eating at home, the first thing most of us reach for isn’t a salad. It might not even be the second… or the third. It’s not because we don’t love themwe do. We crave the salads from our favorite spots—you know, the ones with the rich, creamy dressings? The ones with the crunchy bits on top? So why is it, then, that when we turn to our own kitchens, we seem to fall short making medleys as tasty as the ones above? Two words: contrast and texture. These magical components can take a salad from good to great, from boring to breathtaking, and amping them up is as low effort and high reward as it gets. 

 

Most dressings rely on the combination of fat and tang as a basis upon which to grow. Fats act as stabilizers, allowing ingredients to bind together and emulsify. Oils, egg yolks, and dairy products are all common examples of this. Then, in order to enliven the mildness of most greens, dressings strive to pack a punch often attained with piquancy. Vinegars, citruses, and other acidic components help achieve this. In this harmonious pairing, contrast is key. 

 

So, without further adieu, here are some of our favorite dressings, tips, and tricks to help you, the take-out salad lover, make the best ones at-home. That’s right: at home.

 

 

Miso Vinaigrette

Starring some umami-packed miso, this hit dressing would be nothing without its co-stars, toasted sesame oil and the ever-acetose rice vinegar (the duo of fat and tang). Pairing this nutty oil with the slightly sweet flavor of the vinegar, their dynamic is just that—dynamic! Optional garnishes include roughly chopped peanuts or cashews, additional scallions or sesame seeds, and crispy fried wonton strips. Give dressing this a go over (duh) a salad, or pour it over your favorite veg/protein dinner for some added complexity that’ll trigger all the right receptors, which is the science-y way of saying that it’s absolutely mouthwatering. 

 

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. white miso paste

2 Tbsp. neutral oil

1 Tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

1 tsp. low or reduced sodium soy sauce 

1 tsp. fresh lime juice

½ tsp. Local Roots honey

½ tsp. grated ginger 

½ small chile, minced 

1 Tbsp. chopped scallions

1 tsp. sesame seeds (optional)

 

 

 

Creamy Yogurt Dressing

Creamy dressings have our heart, but they also tend to have high levels of fat and can feel heavy at times. Ever opt for oil and vinegar in the interest of “keeping it light?” Us too. What if we told you that you could have it both ways? Lucious and light; fatty and feel-good. Queue: Greek yogurt. This refreshing ingredient is the answer to our cravings and lends a bright, milky air to the most variant of salads. With the aid of acidic lemony notes, bitey garlic, and herbaceous dill, this dressing is sure to become a salad-making staple for its quick come-together and generally always-on-hand ingredients.

 

Ingredients:

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

¼ cup olive oil

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 clove garlic, minced

3 tsp. dill, finely chopped

½ tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. lemon zest

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper 

 

 

Lemony Tahini Dressing

Tahini, in all its greatness, acts as a thickening agent, a contributor of earthy, nutty flavors, and a giver of slight bitterness. As ingredients go, it’s versatile and complex, making it the perfect base to dress a salad with. Combining the rich paste with warm water thins it out to a more liquidy consistency, and the addition of lemon and garlic cuts through some of its bitterness. Last but certainly not least, the sweetness of the maple syrup helps round this drizzle out to a well-balanced, straight-forward dressing as perfect for salad as it is for roasted veg and protein too. 

 

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. Local Roots tahini

2 Tbsp. warm water

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. maple syrup 

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper 

 

Directions (for all three):

Combine ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, and whisk until homogenous. For a thinner consistency, add warm water time until desired thickness is achieved. 

 

Dressing a Salad

Many recipes will instruct a light toss for a delicate salad so as not to bump around and bruise its contents. We’re here to tell you, on the record, they’re wrong (to an extent). Giving your salad a meaningful toss, especially if there’s herbs hiding in there, helps the contents release their oils and thus, their flavor. It’s perfectly alright to get in there and mix like you mean it. So, in the spirit of promoting a “meaningful toss,” here’s how to properly dress a salad:

 

Salad spinners are great, but most New Yorkers don’t have the space for contraptions that size, not to mention, our hands do just as well (if not better!). In fact, our jutting fingers help us get “in there” between all the nooks, cranies, and crevices of differently textured salad components. So, don’t be afraid; get in there, and get those hands dirty (with dressing, that is). With your salad in a large bowl, pour in your preferred amount of dressing, and get busy. Your future self will be thankful for it when you’re munching on a thoroughly-dressed, well-combined salad. 

 

Avoiding Boring at All Costs

As mentioned, the secret to a great salad comes down to contrast and texture, and not just within the dressing either. Making sure your salad runs the gamut of crunchy (julienned carrots, anyone?), chewy (hello figs!), and all sorts of textures in between is one habit all exceptional salad-makers share. Some of our favorite crunchies (apart from croutons) include frizzled jalapenos or shallots, sunflower seeds, pepitas, and salted or candied nuts. Cheeses are a crowd-pleasing contributor of fat that come in quite-literally almost endless varieties (let us know if you ever run out of ones to try), not to mention, cheeses like goat and feta pack their own tang, too! So get creative! Using our basic formula that promotes contrast and balance, you’ll never run out of ways to salad, turning you, the take-out salad lover, into a home-made salad connoisseur. 

 

Article, Recipes, and Photos by Local Roots NYC Volunteer Jess Santoro (@jess_santoro)





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