Salad greens are plentiful in grocery stores year-round, but if you ask us, big-box produce never seems to taste as good as the leafy greens that pop up in local farmers’ gardens.
Salad dressing doesn’t have to have a lot of ingredients to taste good — all tender baby spinach and delicate spring mixes need to dazzle the taste buds is a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper. But sometimes you crave a dressing that’s a little more complex.
As the following recipes show, the right blend of oil, vinegar and spices can elevate a simple bowl of greens from a healthful but ho-hum afterthought to a super-satisfying house special. Who knows, your family might even ask for seconds.
Crunchy greens such as romaine and iceberg lettuce are the perfect canvas for creamy dressings such as the Green Goddess offered here, while buttery head lettuces demand a lighter touch. Make sure you wash and completely dry your greens before placing in the salad bowl (a salad spinner comes in handy), and also be sure to tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces, unless you’re grilling the head whole, which I love to do with romaine.
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I always salt my greens before adding the dressing — start with less than you think you need, because once it’s on, there’s no going back — but it’s perfectly acceptable to do it afterward, too. And don’t forget a good grind of black pepper. All recipes were tested for accuracy.
GREEN GODDESS DRESSING
Green Goddess is sometimes dubbed the “little black dress” of salad dressing because it never goes out of style. This recipe gets its fat from avocado instead of the traditional mayonnaise and/or sour cream. It’s on the thick side, which means you also could use it for dipping crudites.
1 cup chopped avocado (about 1 avocado)
3 or 4 anchovy fillets or 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons anchovy paste
2 small garlic cloves, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup firmly packed basil, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil, optional
Add the avocado, anchovies, garlic, scallions, white-wine vinegar, lemon juice and Greek yogurt to a food processor or blender; process until relatively smooth. Add the basil, parsley and tarragon; process until smooth. If too thick, thin it out with a glug of olive oil. Serve with crudites as a dip or thin out with olive oil to make a salad dressing. For dressing, add olive oil 1/4 cup at a time, processing constantly until the desired consistency is reached. Toss with salad greens.
BASIL BUTTERMILK DRESSING
If your kids love Hidden Valley Ranch (and who doesn’t?), they’ll adore this buttermilk-based dressing.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons full-fat yogurt or sour cream
2 teaspoons apple-cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
In bowl, stir together mayonnaise, yogurt, vinegar, shallot and basil. Stir in most of the buttermilk and all the honey. Check for consistency and add more buttermilk if needed. Taste, then season with salt, pepper and paprika. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before using to allow flavors to blend and develop. Store any leftover dressing in fridge and use within a couple of days. Makes a generous 2 cups.
Source: “Seven Spoons: My Favor Recipes for Any and Every Day” by Tara O’Brady (Ten Speed, $27.50).
PEPPER JELLY VINAIGRETTE
I used homemade jalapeño jelly for this recipe. Serve with a salad of watermelon, arugula and chopped pecans. Crumbled Gorgonzola optional.
1/4 cup rice-wine vinegar
1/4 cup pepper jelly
1 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Whisk together first 6 ingredients. Gradually add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until blended. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to a week.
Source: “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ” with Pitmaster Christopher Prieto (Oxmoor, $24.95).
WALNUT OIL VINAIGRETTE
One of my favorite (and easy to make) summer salads is char-grilled romaine. This balsamic vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment.
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
In glass jar with tight-fitting lid, combine walnut oil, olive oil, vinegar, onion, mustard, sugar and salt; cover and shake to blend. Use right away or store in refrigerator for up to two weeks. Makes 1 cup.
Source: “BBQ Bistro: Simple, Sophisticated French Recipes for Your Grill” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (Running Press, $20).