I’m fortunate to have a child who loves salads. LOVES them. No matter the restaurant, unless we’re eating breakfast or brunch, my daughter will inevitably order a salad. Wedge, Caesar — she scours the salad section of any menu first and carefully considers each option, typically going for whichever one comes with grilled chicken on top.
And she’s not swayed by peer pressure, either. Eating out with friends who go for a meal of anything-with-fries, my daughter’s meal is always a salad. (Funny, they swipe one another’s fries, but no one picks at her plate for pieces of lettuce or cucumbers. Maybe she’s onto something.)
Salads went into her school lunches this past year, too, because she’d eat a salad over a sandwich every day of the week. And while I can appreciate that maybe it’s the dressings that appeal to her, I’m fine with that. She’s still eating all the good stuff she needs, and if it takes being dipped into something creamy or a simple vinaigrette, so be it.
So in honor of my salad-loving girl and all of the many bowls that grace our dinner table, I thought I’d try making a few salad dressings from scratch and let the salad master offer feedback.
Of course, I made ranch dressing. It’s become America’s go-to topping for seemingly everything but salads, including pizza (not a fan, by the way) and fried chicken. Mine isn’t pure, though; it has avocado and hints of taco seasoning, which are supremely tasty.
Next up was Caesar dressing, which my daughter loves, even though she only recently discovered that it’s made with anchovies and the thought of those little fishes gives her the willies. She’s pickiest about this one — she only goes for varieties that aren’t “fishy.” (To be honest, those fishes give me the willies, too.)
One of her newest faves is fruit vinaigrette, so I made a strawberry poppy seed dressing that’s just a little bit sweet but with notes of balsamic vinegar to give it some punch. Then I did a lovely feta-studded Greek vinaigrette, which would be perfect on everything from cold pasta salads to sliced beef and pork dishes.
Finally, I made a five-ingredient honey mustard, the old gold standard for dipping sauces back in the day, but which has since been replaced with — you guessed it — ranch.
A few notes: For the Caesar, ranch and strawberry vinaigrette, a food processor or a blender is best and takes care of the job in a matter of seconds. For the other two, simply whisking ingredients will work. Or, if you have a jar, add everything and seal it tight, give it a few strong shakes, and you’re good to go.
Also, the quantities with these recipes aren’t huge, so if you’re prone to buying salad dressings and then throwing half the bottle away, making your own might save you both money and waste since many of the ingredients that go into these dressings are common kitchen staples.
My daughter and I tested each one with romaine leaves. She politely reminded me that her greens preference is now spring mix, but romaine was all I had. Give Mom a break.
Spoiler alert: To my surprise, the strawberry poppy seed dressing won out. This one received the biggest reaction, from the wide eyes and the instant “mmm” to the flood of compliments, including, “That’s better than what you buy in a store.” And the best part is, you can sub out the strawberries for raspberries or blackberries, or a combo of all three, and keep this going all summer.
Avocado ranch was a very close second. Unlike store-bought varieties, my homemade dressings tended to be a little on the thinner side, which she loved, though chilling helps to thicken them. The avocado shines through, but the buttermilk and herbs are enough to remind you of those familiar ranch flavors. The taco seasoning adds spiciness, but just a little.
Third up was the Caesar, and although she didn’t want to watch the process — anchovies aren’t the most appealing things to look at — she happily tried the result and, again, her eyes lit up. I went a little heavy on the lemon juice because I liked the zip it added. This one is a bit saltier than the others, so watch the added salt and taste as you go.
The Greek vinaigrette was good — she liked it — but it didn’t wow her like the others. I, on the other hand, could’ve licked the bowl.
Lastly, while I adore honey mustard, she didn’t even try it. Not one little taste. One whiff was all she needed to decide she didn’t like it. This one was mild and would do well served with chicken, too, like at fast-food joints. But for something more adventurous, try using whole-grain mustard or some sort of specialty mustard featuring garlic and herbs. No reason you can’t take it from kid-friendly to for-adults-only.
My daughter is growing up. She’s learning and making good choices when it comes to healthful eating, and for that, I’m grateful. Plus, I like showing her the alternatives to store-bought everything — that some things are just as good or better when they’re homemade.
And, if eating too much salad dressing is the worst thing she ever does, I’ll be one happy mama.