Oil is just one on many ingredients that can be used to make tasty salad dressings. Sure, it adds subtle flavor and enticing body to your dressing, but it also adds a significant amount of fat and calories to your healthy salad. Whip up a batch of oil-free salad dressing that gets your taste buds singing by combining fresh herbs and seasonings with vinegar or citrus juice and an oil substitute to help it cling to your greens.
To compensate for the viscosity that oil adds to salad dressing, you can substitute one of the following thickeners:
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- Co**rnstarch:** Combine 1 teaspoon cornstarch with 1/2 cup of water or broth in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer it until the liquid is clear and thickened. Allow it to cool before using.
- Cooking Water: The authors of the book No More Bull recommend using the cooled cooking liquid leftover after cooking potatoes, chickpeas or cannellini beans to thicken dressing in place of oil.
- Xanthan Gum: This ingredient is frequently used to replace gluten in gluten-free baking. Used here, it provides thickening and emulsification in place of the oil. (Ref 2, page 298) To use it as an oil substitute in your salad dressing, add 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum for every 1 teaspoon of liquid used in your salad dressing recipe. (Ref 3)
Just as mustard can be used in an oil-based dressing to emulsify the oil and vinegar, it can add flavor and body to your oil-free salad dressing without extra fat. Use Dijon mustard for a kicky flavor, or use simple yellow mustard for a smoother taste. To make a mustard vinaigrette, mix 1/3 cup mustard with 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon sweetener, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons water. Blend the mixture in a blender, food processor or with a hand blender and season it to taste with salt.
Just as fruit purees can be used to replace the fat in baking, you can also use them as an oil substitute in your salad dressing. Some examples include canned pumpkin and applesauce. For every 3 tablespoons of vinegar, try blending in approximately 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce. Season the mixture with your favorite herbs or seasonings, such as cumin, salt and pepper. Play up the sweetness with a little maple syrup, or add a kick of spice with a dash of cayenne and some minced garlic.
Add body and flavor to your dressing by combining your ingredients with protein-rich nut butter instead of oil. Although many recipes call for a small amount of additional oil, you can leave it out without sacrificing quality or flavor. For example, to make an Asian peanut dressing, combine 1/4 cup nut butter with an equal amount of water, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons honey and 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh ginger. Add crushed red pepper flakes or a little Sriracha for heat, if desired.
Admittedly, this can be a bit of a cheat since many brands, and even homemade tahini, contains a small amount of oil for smoothness. It adds a depth of flavor and creamy quality to your salad dressing without any extra oil, though -- making it worthy of mentioning. To make a tangy, rich tahini dressing, combine 2 tablespoons tahini with 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons maple syrup or agave nectar, and salt and pepper to taste. (Ref 4) Ideally, mix the ingredients together with a blender or an immersion blender for optimal consistency. Add flavorful extras, such as herbs, fresh ginger or garlic to vary the taste of your tahini dressing.
When you want to add creaminess and richness to your dressing without any oil or dairy, try adding one of the following creamy ingredients to thicken your dressing:
Avocado: A little goes a long way when you use avocado to make a quick, creamy dressing. Swap the oil in your dressing recipe with 1/4 of an avocado. Blend it with citrus juice or vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper for a quick dressing.
Silken Tofu: The Kitchn recommends blending in a small amount of silken tofu with your favorite vinegar and herbs to make a flavorful, creamy vinaigrette.
Yogurt: Greek yogurt, in particular, helps add thickness and body to your dressing in addition to giving it a creamy flavor with subtle tang. Add a spoonful or two to other ingredients to make anything from Caesar dressing to ranch, green goddess, honey mustard or poppy seed dressings.