Dress Yourself With Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes

Make your own salad dressing with a basic recipe formula for delectable homemade creations. And we've got a few recipes to get you started!

by Lori Rice
PHOTO: images by Lori Rice

The dressing is the final touch that gives a salad its identity. A soy-based dressing lends itself well to a salmon-topped spring mix salad. A berry dressing is a good match for a spinach salad loaded with goat cheese and candied nuts. Variety in your salad dressings can take a week’s worth of greens and transform them into a different meal each day. 

Creating all these salad dressings is much easier than you think. You simply need a basic formula. From there, you can swap in what you have in the pantry or what’s been harvested from the garden to create a completely different salad dressing each time you make one.

The Foundation of a Salad Dressing 

There are two core ingredients in a vinaigrette that make up the base of the formula: an oil and an acid. To go beyond a basic oil and vinegar dressing, add three more categories to the formula: sweetener, seasonings and optional add-ins. 

The formula for a basic vinaigrette begins with three parts oil to one part acid—for example 34 cup of olive oil and 14 cup of apple cider vinegar. Depending on how sweet of a dressing you enjoy, you’ll need 1 to 3 tablespoons of a sweetener.

Seasonings and add-ins will vary by the ingredient. The type of oil and acid used in the dressing influences how much flavor can be detected from these additions. 

For the recipes here and for those you create with your own ingredients, we’ll use the formula that follows. It makes about 1 cup, which is plenty to serve over a large, family-style salad.

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34 cup oil + 14 cup acid + 1 to 3 tablespoons sweetener + 14 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon each of seasonings + 14 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon each of add-ins

salad dressing dressings recipes

The Oil

The most important characteristic of the oil for a salad dressing is that it is balanced in flavor. The oil should complement the other components of the dressing, but not overpower them. 

Extra-virgin olive oil is a standard ingredient in most salad dressings, but a mildly flavored version should be used. This mild flavor comes from olive oil blends versus single-varietal olive oils or those labeled as bold, which can be strong and peppery.

Most extra virgin olive oils you find in the supermarket are a good fit for a salad dressing. But if you are concerned that the flavor may be too strong, look for “virgin olive oil” or simply “olive oil” for an oil with a less intense taste. 

Consider expanding beyond olive oil, too. Peanut oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil as well as ordinary corn and canola oil can be used to create new types of salad dressings.

The Acid

Any acidic ingredient can serve as the acid to balance the savory and sweet flavors of your salad dressing. Apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar are popular choices. But lemon, lime and grapefruit juices can also serve as the acid.

Rice vinegar and red wine vinegar are other good choices.

Read more: Learn about crafting vinegars from foraged finds.

The Sweetener

Even if you aren’t aiming for a sweet dressing, a tablespoon of a sweetener will help to blend the savory and tart flavors that come from the other ingredients. If a sweeter dressing is what you are after, simply increase the sweetener you use to two to three tablespoons. 

salad dressing dressings recipes

There are many forms of sweetener. Honey, maple syrup, and granulated white sugar are the most common. Agave syrup, sorghum syrup, molasses, date syrup and maple sugar also make flavorful dressings.

Additionally, low-acid fruit juices such as the juice from berries or sweet oranges can serve as a sweetener as well. A combination of sweeteners such as fruit juice and maple syrup can deepen the sweetness further. 

The Seasonings

Seasoning your dressing is your opportunity to get creative and make it all your own. Seasonings apply to any fresh or dried ingredient that adds more flavor beyond your oil, acid and sweetener.

Salt and pepper are certainly in this category. So is every other dried spice such as cumin, coriander and turmeric. 

Fresh and dried herbs are also included here, along with other fresh aromatic ingredients. Examples include basil, cilantro, dill, rosemary, grated garlic cloves, grated onion and grated ginger root. 

salad dressing dressings recipes

Other ingredients used to season a dressing can include soy sauce, tamari and coconut aminos. These ingredients can take the place of salt or can be combined with salt in the dressing for a complex savory note. Hot sauce, tahini (ground sesame paste) and nut butter are other seasonings you can add to a salad dressing. 

This is also where you can add in some strongly flavored finishing oils. These are the type of oils that are too potent to use as the base of your dressing, but they contribute a punch of flavor when added a tablespoon or two at a time.

Toasted sesame oil, walnut oil and pumpkin seed oil are all tasty choices. 

Read more: Check out these 5 tips for drying homegrown herbs.

The Add-ins

The add-ins are completely optional, so you’ll want to make sure you consider your dressing complete and delicious without them. But they can add a fun twist to both the taste and texture.

They also help people identify what might be in the dressing. 

For example, a sesame dressing with sesame seeds in it. In addition to toasted white and black sesame seeds, add-ins can include thinly sliced scallions, poppy seeds, citrus zest, minced sun-dried tomatoes, pimentos and finely minced olives. 

Put It All Together

To make your dressing, ensure that you have at least one ingredient from the first four categories. Then consider add-ins for a creative twist. Combine all ingredients in a jar with a secure lid.

A pint-sized jar will give the ingredients enough room to blend. Shake for about 30 seconds until all ingredients are combined. 

Sweeteners and seasonings can always be adjusted to personal tastes. Start with a smaller amount, and add more until you get the flavor just right. Flavors will also blend and brighten as a dressing sits, so consider making it about 30 minutes ahead of time. 

Then adjust the sweetness and seasoning just before serving. Dressings can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If the oil solidifies, allow the dressing to sit out at room temperature for an hour before using. 

Salad Dressing Recipes

Soy Sesame Dressing 

The slight sweetness of the maple syrup combined with the savory soy sauce and sesame flavors of the tahini make this nutty dressing perfect for topping a mixed green salad. It can also be used as a tasty sauce to add to stir-fried vegetables. 

Yield: about 1 cup

  • 3/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

Place all ingredients in a pint jar. Secure the lid. Shake for 30 seconds until all ingredients are combined.

Berry Lemon Rosemary Vinaigrette

Make this dressing from late spring to late summer when fresh berries are in season. During the winter, frozen berries make an equally delicious substitute.

This recipe was made with blackberries. But strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or a combination of berries are all ideal for this dressing. 

Yield: about 1 cup

  • 3/4 cup avocado oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh blackberry juice*
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Place all ingredients in a pint jar. Secure the lid. Shake for 30 seconds until all ingredients are combined.

*Extracted from a handful of fresh or thawed berries. Mull the berries in a bowl and pour through a hand strainer to separate the juice. 

Honey Lime Cilantro Dressing

This tangy dressing is ideal for topping taco salads. The honey adds a touch of sweetness to savory ingredients such as ground beef and beans in the salad, while the cilantro gives a pop of vibrant fresh flavor that is a good match for the fresh lime.

Yield: about 1 cup

  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • •2 tablespoons honey 
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Place all ingredients in a pint jar. Secure the lid. Shake for 30 seconds until all ingredients are combined.

This article appeared in Hobby Farm Home, a 2023 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. In addition to this piece, Hobby Farm Home includes recipes, crafting projects, preservation tips and more. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such as Healing Herbs and  Goats 101 by following this link.


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