Salad and I did not get off to a good start. It occupied one of the beige squares on the school cafeteria lunch tray. I was deep in conversation about the things that matter to 6-year-olds—the virtues of Cabbage Patch Kids or whatnot—and was focused on the burger that sat next to the salad, one square over on the tray. I’d promised my parents I’d have two bites of salad before the burger. As I lifted the fork, someone screamed. A live, curious inchworm was millimeters from my open mouth.
I wouldn’t get near salad for a full 10 years after that, and you’d better believe I did my own professional-grade health inspection of every carrot stick, cucumber slice, and ants-on-a-log that came within 50 paces. I’d love to tell you that as an adult in her 40s and a food writer, I’m beyond my salad phobia. That would be a lie. I tend, still, towards roasting veggies, sautéing them, folding them into other dishes, and anything that gets them out of dreaded salad format.
But some days, when you have a big bunch of greens, some pretty cucumbers or tomatoes, fresh herbs, or a pile of things from the market that would be good raw, you’ve just got to make salad or a crudité platter. I’ve landed on three dressings that work for me—sweet-tart, creamy, and French vinaigrette—that I can make quickly.
The Thai- and Vietnamese-inspired dressing relies on good-quality fish sauce, so make sure yours is solid. (Red Boat is a great brand, but there are many others.) Lime juice and hot pepper flakes add hits of sour and heat to fish sauce’s saltiness. This works drizzled on cucumbers and lettuce or tossed with cooked rice noodles in a bowl with ground pork or sautéed tofu. It’s light, bright, and awesome.
Buttermilk dressing is a Southern classic, and this slightly sour, creamy version of it is a go-to. I use it on tomatoes, salmon, or as a dip. (Use up any leftover buttermilk in biscuits or pancakes.) The French dressing, which is nothing like those orange French dressings you might know and loathe, is as classic as can be. Skip the garlic if you don’t want the extra heat and bite, and adjust the ratio of vinegar to olive oil to suit you.
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Here are boilerplates for all three very tasty dressings. These make small servings, but I suggest you start with smaller proportions to make sure they’re to your taste, then double or triple proportions. (Good olive oil and fish sauce can be expensive!) Here’s hoping these dressings will help you start eating a few more vegetables, if you struggle with that—worm or no worm—as I do.
Ginger is optional, but I’d suggest it if you’re making something savory, like meat or tofu. Garlic is best to add if you’re mixing the dressing with something hot, like grilled shrimp or pork with vermicelli and crushed peanuts. The garlic’s bite will mellow from the heat of the other ingredients.
1 Tbsp. good-quality fish sauce
1 tsp. light brown sugar
1 lime, squeezed (about 2 Tbsps.)
¼ tsp. Thai chile or Italian hot pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, grated (optional)
1 tsp. ginger, grated (optional)
Sometimes you’ll want the heat of raw garlic in your French vinaigrettes, but sometimes not so much, which is why it’s optional here.
1 Tbsp. minced shallot
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅛ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch Kosher salt
½ tsp. garlic, minced (about 1 small clove; optional)
Use the best-quality buttermilk you can afford here; it does make a difference. Feel free to use your preferred type of yogurt, but know that Greek yogurt may give you a very tangy finished product.
¼ tsp. minced garlic
¼ tsp. minced shallot
¼ cup buttermilk
¼ cup 2% plain yogurt
¼ tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. fresh dill
½ tsp. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked pepper
Alex Van Buren—follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen—is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and content strategist who has written for The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious.
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