Salad Days

Making your own salad dressings is super easy and steps up your cool meals for hot days + a salad recipe roundup
Creamy Bacon Vinaigrette and Creamy Lemon Tahini Dressing

Photo Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

On these hot days, a cool salad hits the spot for lunch or dinner topped with your favorite protein. And it’s easy to make your own dressing with fresh ingredients you know–and that don’t look like a chemistry formula, such as in some bottled dressings.

With these recipes on hand—Creamy Bacon Vinaigrette and Creamy Lemon Tahini Dressing—plus tips from Twin Cities chef and Saint Paul College Culinary Arts instructor Jason Ross, which he created for Real Food, even creamy style dressing will be easy to whip up. You need some solid salad dressing recipes in your repertoire—creamy and tangy, flavorful and yummy—to whip together for lunch or dinner, says Ross.

Following are two base recipes that both have big flavor. Each can be paired with a variety of foods, and each works on a different technique: emulsifying and using starches as thickeners. Once mastered, these dressings are easy to modify, says Ross, and he includes suggestions for other variations such as bacon grilled scallion dressing and tahini ranch dressing.

Use these dressings for sturdier salads such as spinach, kale, or shredded cabbage and carrot, he suggests. They would also be good as a sauce for grilled poultry and seafood and with grilled vegetables such as asparagus or eggplant—or even as a stand-in for a creative Caesar salad.

These recipes and variations are sure to keep you cool and your salad selection delicious. Plus, scroll down for easy links to more salads with fresh dressings.

Creamy Bacon Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 Cup, 6 to 8 Servings

In this recipe, the starch in the mustard and shallots help to form the emulsion, and the bacon drippings give the dressing a smooth texture. Adding oil to the bacon drippings will help keep the dripping liquid at room temperature so it doesn’t become solid and greasy. It also mellows the flavor, which can get a little rich and overpowering.

1 medium shallot, minced
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon finely sliced chives
Pinch black pepper
6 slices bacon cut into ½ inch or smaller pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sour cream

  1. Toss minced shallot with salt in a small mixing bowl. Wait a few minutes for the shallot to moisten and soften in the salt. This will help cut the heat and bite of the raw shallot and draw out moisture.
  2. Whisk red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, water, chives, and black pepper into the bowl of shallot. Set aside.
  3. Put the cut bacon in a medium sized sauté pan on medium low heat. Cook the bacon, stirring often with a wood spoon, until fully crisped, about 8 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat. Strain bacon drippings into a medium sized mixing bowl and add oil to the strained fat. Remove cooked bacon and store in a small container at room temperature for up to 7 days. These tasty morsels are great with almost anything, but especially salads.
  5. Slowly drizzle the bacon drippings and oil mixture into the shallot and vinegar mixture, whisking constantly and vigorously until all the oil has been added. Whisk in sour cream to finish dressing.
  6. Store in a lidded container or jar, refrigerated, for up to 7 days. Shake or whisk before serving, and serve at room temperature.

Bacon Blue Cheese Dressing: Substitute 1/3 cup sour cream for 1/3 cup neutral oil, and add 3 to 4 tablespoons blue cheese crumbles.
Bacon Grilled Scallion Dressing: Substitute 1 tablespoon chives for ½ bunch scallions brushed with oil, grilled and chopped.

SERVING SUGGESTION: Try bacon dressings with a Spinach and Grilled Chicken Salad to make it a meal. For each serving use 1½ cups baby spinach, 1 tablespoon crispy bacon pieces (from dressing), 1 grilled chicken breast, 1 sliced mushroom, 2 tablespoons blue cheese crumbles, ¼ cup grated carrot, 1/8 teaspoon salt, grind of black pepper and 2 tablespoons Creamy Bacon Vinaigrette.

Creamy Lemon Tahini Dressing

Makes about 1 Cup, 6 to 8 Servings

Tahini is made from just one ingredient, sesame seeds, ground into a paste. So luscious and smooth, it has rich texture and deep flavor, all from a pale golden seed. Use the depth and intensity of tahini for a rich dressing with surprisingly smooth texture.

1 garlic clove, finely minced
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sesame tahini paste
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the garlic and salt. Whisk in the tahini.
  2. Combine water and lemon juice and slowly add to the tahini mixture. Depending on the thickness of the tahini, more water may be needed to get a creamy dressing-like consistency. (Tahini is a starchy purée and, like most starches, will oddly thicken or clump when mixed with water. Gradually the sauce will loosen as the amount of liquid increases and incorporates into the tahini.)
  3. Next whisk in olive oil.
  4. Store in a lidded container or jar, refrigerated, for up to 7 days.

Tahini Ranch Dressing: Add ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon paprika, ½ teaspoon honey and a dash of Tabasco sauce.
Ginger Yogurt Tahini: Substitute 2 tablespoons olive oil with ¼ cup plain yogurt, and add 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger.

SERVING SUGGESTION: Use tahini dressings with Cucumber Mint Chopped Salad with Shrimp. For each serving, use 1 cup chopped romaine lettuce, ¼ cup diced cucumber, ¼ cup diced tomato, 2 tablespoons diced red pepper, 2 tablespoons diced red onion, 2 tablespoons crumbled feta, 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint, 1/8 teaspoon salt, grind of black pepper and 2 tablespoons Creamy Lemon Tahini Dressing.

Nutrition info (per serving)
• Creamy Bacon Vinaigrette: Per Serving: Calories 149 (144 From Fat); Fat 16g (Sat. 4g); Chol 8mg; Sodium 204mg; Carb 1g; Fiber 0g; Protein 0g
• Creamy Lemon Tahini Dressing: Calories 90 (74 From Fat); Fat 9g (Sat. 1g); Chol 0mg; Sodium 159mg; Carb 3g; Fiber 1g; Protein 2g

Cauliflower Broccoli Salad with Mango-Curry Dressing

Photo Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

Salad Recipe Roundup

Check out more cool ideas for salads with fresh, homemade dressing I have highlighted here:

Cauliflower Broccoli Salad with Mango-Curry Dressing Recipe

Celebrate mangoes with a fresh and flavorful salad and bring cool, colorful goodness to the table.

Spiced Chicken and Couscous Salad + More Cool Salad Recipes

A cool, whole-meal salad is just the ticket for lunch or dinner—but it doesn’t have to be the same-old salad and toppings thrown together. Check out this recipe and more.

Popcorn Salad Recipe

Gluten-free popcorn brings a different crunch to savory salad

Autumn Harvest Salad

Apples join spinach, dried cranberries, and a little bacon—which makes everything better—in a nutrient-packed salad.

Chicken Florentine Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette

This Italian-inspired spinach salad with orzo makes a light and delicious one-dish meal.

Grilled Vegetable and Bratwurst Salad Recipe

Think “outside the bun” and enjoy summer’s favorite grilled brats in a fresh veggie salad for a low-carb alternative

Chicken and Blueberry Farfalle Salad Recipe

A quick and easy fresh take on chicken pasta salad mixes in fragrant fruitiness and a crunch of walnuts

Curry Chicken and Mango Salad with Couscous Recipe

Can your usual repertoire of salads use a little mixing up? Here is an idea to turn everyday chicken salad into a sumptuous and tantalizing meal-in-one dish.

Greek Wheat Berry Salad with Oregano Chicken and Halloumi Cheese Recipe

A medley of flavors and textures keep salad season interesting.

Try this Butter Lettuce, Avocado and Shrimp Salad + More Salad Recipes

Nothing beats a cool, whole-meal salad when the temperature soars—they’re easy and satisfying.

Do More with Marinades

Get the most out of marinades for the grill and also salads—Dos, Don’ts, and recipes from Twin Cities culinary instructor Jason Ross

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.