As salad dressings go, oil and vinegar—their cute couple name is Vinaigrette—are sort of the popular kids. Everyone likes them, they get along with anyone/salad, and here’s where this metaphor falls apart: you don’t need a recipe.
But sometimes a salad and/or your brain are just begging for a creamy dressing: a nostalgic ranch, blue cheese on a wedge, or the ultimate iceberg side-salad chic Thousand Island.
Creamy dressings get a bad rap for being rich or gloppy, and sure, some of the store-bought varieties are loaded with gums and stabilizers that make them cling to your tender greens with an Elmer’s glue sort of aesthetic. But a good homemade creamy dressing can be light, as effortless as a vinaigrette, but still hit that spot that only a good ranch dressing can.
And the best part? You don’t need a recipe. Here’s how you do it!
- Start with a creamy base. Mayonnaise is a no-brainer, because it already has salad dressing vibe. It’s balanced with salt, acid, and a little sweetness, making it a good building block. For something a little lighter, you can use plain Greek yogurt or sour cream, and for something vegan, start with avocado, tahini, or blended tofu or chickpeas. For about 1 1/2 cups of dressing, start with about 1 cup of base.
- Thin it out. Our base options are not ideal finished dressing textures, so you’ll want to thin them to a more pourable consistency. Add buttermilk (that’s great for ranch dressing), milk, citrus juice, or vinegar, or thin the mixture with less viscous condiments, like mustard, hot sauce, pickle relish, prepared salsa, or ketchup. You can also use fruit and vegetable purées, like roasted red pepper, celery, or apple.
- Choose your inclusions. Classic creamy dressings often include lots of herbs and cheeses to create flavor, but there’s a big world beyond blue cheese. Many dressings benefit from the addition of minced or grated garlic. Bold-flavored condiments like Indian achaars (I like this prepared tomato one from Brooklyn Delhi) or chutneys combine flavor and texture to round out a dressing, and briny ingredients like pickles, olives, capers, or preserved lemon offer bites of brightness.
- Check the balance. Before you dress your salad, give the dressing a taste to make sure it covers all of the bases and is well-balanced. Creamy dressings can feel too rich, so make sure yours includes enough acidity to help counter that. Acidic ingredients include vinegars, citrus, pickles, and tomato ingredients. If you’ve gone a little too far on the acid, add a pinch of sugar or a dash of honey to balance it out.