Sauces & dressings turn food into meals, and, when well considered, can provide added healthiness. Often they seem scary to make at home, but it doesn’t have to be an involved process – most can be mixed together in a small cup or container/jar and then drizzled over salads when serving – and leftovers can be kept in the fridge, usually for a week (at most, to be safe, less if they have fresh ingredients like chopped garlic in). Below I’ve recorded approximate guides (and appropriate pairings) for some often-used dressings and sauces, as well as some rarer ones. I’ll be constantly adding to this collection, and I’d love for you to as well.
Freshly made sauces/dressings don’t have to be a hassle, and always taste so much better than the store bough equivalent! Plus you’ll be cutting down on the E-numbers you’re consuming! Just make sure you use good quality ingredients to make the most of your effort :) Always taste before using, and remember to taste a very small amount – this will reflect the effect it has on your food.
You want about 1/8c of dressing per packed cup of salad. If you’re out of extra virgin olive oil or hate the stuff, use normal olive oil instead.
Great on any salad if you’re in a hurry and have little in the pantry. You don’t even need to mix these beforehand. Just mix the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford (buy The Village Press in bulk if you can) with half the amount of oil in white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar or balsamic (for pretty much any salads). Freshly squeezed lemon juice also works well. Then add freshly ground black pepper and some salt, taste, and season further if necessary. To vary things I sometimes add a pinch of sumac or minced garlic.
Honey mustard vinaigrette
Very versatile, adds sweetness and vibrancy to almost any salad – and so easy, I was surprised when I made it up on the spot and it tasted great!
Mix equal amounts of extra virgin olive oil and liquid honey (or any clear honey). Add the same amount of white wine vinegar as oil, then half that amount of whole grain mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Works great even with cabbage on its own, as long as you use good mayo (or hollandaise). There are heaps of home made mayo recipes online, like Kay’s, if you’re inclined. Add a few very thin slices of red onion to the classic cabbage and carrot combo if you like, or chop some up finely in with the mayo. Finely crumbled or grated gouda also takes this to the next level.
Start with a generous amount of good mayo (Japanese mayo or Kato, or Free Range mayo…any thick stuff that’s not too white). Add a third that amount of white wine vinegar, a third the amount of vinegar of dijon mustard, a few pinches of caster sugar, some salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Ranch/Caesar style dressing
Again, use good mayo, and if you think you can’t afford it, make some!
Start with a good dollop of mayo. If you like your dressing thick, add half as much sour cream as mayo. If you like it runny, add 1/3 that amount in buttermilk, or plain milk with a splash of lemon juice. Add salt, pepper, finely minced garlic or a pinch of garlic powder and onion powder. Taste, and add lemon juice or white winegar if you think it needs more acidity. Some online recipes call for worcestershire, or powder-fine grated parmesan, but just remember to start small and build it up.
This can be used on more than just salads. Brushed onto grilled meats or seafood to finish, or used to pan-toast crusty slices of bread, this is perfect.
Basically, you want to chop fresh herbs (keep stalky herbs, like thyme and rosemary, to a minimum) and immediately immerse them in extra virgin olive oil. From here you can experiment with adding either freshly chopped garlic (don’t get too carried away, and chop finely), powder-fine grated parmesan (to make a pesto-y dressing), finely grated lemon zest, or a splash of vinegar (red or white wine are your best bet). Finish with salt and pepper.
Lemony avocado dressing
Scoop out the flesh of one large, or two small, avocados. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon (more if you like your salads zingy), salt and pepper, a dash of olive oil and a few Tablespoons of greek yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, or ricotta. Mince up a clove of garlic and add that to the mix (when I’m too lazy I use some pesto if I have some). Mash with a potato masher. Taste and season furher if desired. As well as being used as a dressing, this is great for dipping as well, esp. with grilled pita bread or spring vegetables! If you’re serving vegans, just omit the yogurt.
Soy & sesame dressing
Use Japanese soy sauce and invest in trusted brands like Kikkoman or Yamasa. Use sparingly (about half as much as normal dressing) as soy sauce tends to be very salty.
Start with your soy sauce, then add a third that amount in sesame oil. From here on you can add finely chopped spring/green onion if you want, and finish with pepper.
The amount you use depends on your personal taste, and therefore finish with salt to your liking.
Good on meats or tofu stir fries, but avoid using with seafood or eggs. I never understand why people buy this ready made, as it’s possibly the simplest sauce I can think of. Honey soy is exactly that – honey and soy sauce! Except most packet sauces use plain golden syrup (or “glucose syrup”), and include oddly coded numbers jumbled with letters, which the average human being does not need nor want.
Start with a good soy sauce – if using dark, you’ll need to add salt later, and use some water to dilute a little (half and half). If using light, there’s no need to dilute. Add equal amounts of liquid or clear honey. Up to this point your sauce will resemble a basic honey soy. Extra additions can include finely chopped garlic, ginger, cooking oil, chopped spring onion, a little sesame oil, chilli (powder or sauce) and/or the water used to soak dried shiitake mushrooms.
Oyster and soy sauce
Sounds awful, but oyster sauce is in a lot of Chinese dishes, and is great in most stir fries. Always buy these at asian supermarkets if you want to save money, as supermarkets will always be more expensive.
Proportion wise, mix 2/3 soy sauce (light, otherwise dilute dark soy and add salt), 1/4 oyster sauce, and the rest cooking oil. Finish with pepper and, if you like, some chilli. Garlic or ginger, finely chopped, are optional extras.
Creamy herb and garlic sauce
This works with pretty much anything, except for maybe tofu. Sometimes you can cook your meat or veges in the sauce (chuck them in at the very beginning), or you can make the sauce and throw in leftovers from last night.
Start with sauteeing some onions, any dried herbs you want, and garlic in butter or oil until golden (preferably in a saucepan), on medium heat. Add plenty of cream, and bring to a simmer. Add sprinklings of flour, salt, and pepper, mixing in until thickened and flavoursome enough for your liking. Finely grated sharp cheeses, drained capers or mustard may be added at the end too.
See my post on pesto. Pesto is soooo versatile – you don’t always have to have certain herbs, or even parmesan, to make something incredibly valuable and delicious.
This is the coveted dip that flirts with all sorts of things, but is ultimately married to fries or a good potato chip (or three…etc). Start with real mayo made with oil and egg yolk (do I need to keep stressing this? Just don’t buy fake mayo ever, you won’t need it). You want about half a cup of mayo at a minimum, because this stuff goes fast and you can use it in anything. Now is where you decide if you want raw or roasted garlic. If using raw, just finely chop/mince 1-2 large cloves. If using roasted, finely chop/mince 4 cloves of garlic. If roasting, fry the garlic in enough oil to generously coat all the garlic in your smallest saucepan or frying pan. Scrape this gorgeousness into your mayo. Then add a tablespoon or so of lemon juice to start with, then 1/2 tsp wet mustard or 1/4 tsp ground mustard, 1/4 tsp salt, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Swirl it up with a fork, and let it sit in the fridge for half an hour to let the garlic flavour explore things. Taste, and add more salt, lemon juice, salt or pepper as you see fit. Add a pinch of smoked paprika for something super special!
While it’s famed for being paired with fish and chips or prawns, I love this sauce in sandwiches, or just as a decadent dip with chips/crisps or crackers. It’d taste great with any salad that had seafood or chicken strips as well.
Follow the pattern of making caesar/ranch dressing up until the point where you add sour cream or buttermilk (thick sauce will be better for dipping or sandwiches, whereas runny ones are more appropriate for salad). Add drained, finely chopped gherkin & capers, and a splash of lemon juice. If you’ve used fresh lemon juice, grate some zest in (use the fine setting). If you want a bit of a spice kick, add a few drops of Tabasco sauce.
Sweet chilli sauce
You can get frozen chillis at asian supermarkets, but of course fresh will always be best. If using frozen, defrost in the pan with a little oil, then chop finely (or if you have a food processor you can make a big load).
Finely chop some red chillis (stalks removed), seeds and all. You almost want to mince them. Add the equivalent amount of golden syrup or liquid honey (preferably some sort of mild honey, like clover, or mixed). Add a third of the total of white vinegar, some salt, a pinch of paprika (optional, to add colour), a splash of lime juice if using for Thai food, and maybe a few drops of fish sauce if you have some.
Satay sauce @ Allrecipes (with very straightforward ingredients – you can used chilli powder in place of flakes)
Heidi’s 5 minute tomato sauce (using crushed tomatoes) – fantastic for pizzas, pasta, or even home made fries.
Fifteen minute tomato sauce @ Chez Pim (using fresh tomatoes, or chopped from a can) – ditto above
Feel free to post links to your own favourite sauce recipes below, or share your favourite method below :)