The Components of an Oil-Free Salad Dressing
How to Make Your Own
There is a growing trend to forego added oils in the diet. With that, many people are looking for recipes for oil-free salad dressings. Recipes abound in the media, and the possibilities are endless. Yet our likes, dislikes, specific salad ingredients, and food sensitivities all work together to determine what we want or don’t want on our plate.
To help meet these needs, I’ve put together a list of basic components of an oil-free salad dressing or sauce. This list contains basic ingredient categories that any salad dressing would contain, with a list of possible items that could be used in each category. This is not a specific recipe, but a blueprint of items to include to make your own dressing, your way. The possibilities are endless and limited only to your imagination! And, the list is not comprehensive. It’s simply not possible to list all potential ingredients such as herbs and spices. So, don’t feel limited to the list below. Use it as your guide and develop your own special dressing or sauce that meets your needs for the food you want to serve it with.
Components of an Oil-Free Dressing or Sauce
1. A “Base” for Bulk
This ingredient should have a relatively neutral flavor despite the fact that it will lend a little flavor to your dressing. It will provide bulk or volume to your dressing and will also help the dressing to adhere to the ingredients in your salad or dish where the dressing will be used. This ingredient is the foundation of your dressing and should be your starting point.
Yellow squash (cooked or raw)
Zucchini (cooked or raw)
Cauliflower (cooked or raw)
Winter squash (roasted, steamed, or boiled)
Green peas (frozen and thawed)
White beans (cooked)
Other bean of choice (cooked)
Blackeye peas (cooked)
Garbanzo beans (cooked)
Yogurt of choice
2. Fat-Containing Ingredient
This component provides richness and smoothness to your dressing. It also helps the dressing to adhere to your salad vegetables. If necessary, it can be left out, but your dressing may be lacking that “something special” that’s needed to help give it body and give it a delicious, full flavor.
Flax meal (if using whole flax seeds, grind them separately first)
Chia seeds (soak them first)
Soaked nuts or seeds of choice (examples: cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds)
Nut butter of choice
Cheese of Choice
3. Acidic Ingredient
All dressings need an acidic ingredient to help the flavor stand out when added to other foods. Your choice of which acidic ingredient to use will affect the flavor of your dressing in a big way, so consider whether you want a sweet and fruity or tart and savory flavor. A sweeter dressing would benefit from fruits and/or fruit juices and/or balsamic vinegar being used as the acid component(s). Dressings that need more tartness would benefit from adding a standard tart vinegar.
When choosing fruit, you have many choices. You could juice the fruit and add only the juice to the dressing. Or you could peel the fruit, remove seeds, and add whole segments of the fruit to your mixture. The pulp from the fruit would add fiber and bulk to your dressing. So, it’s a matter of personal preference and what you need at the time. I’ve tried both ways, and they both work well, depending on the outcome you want. Just be sure to remove any white pith from citrus fruit if adding whole fruit sections, since that can be bitter.
Pineapple (whole or juiced)
Apple cider vinegar
Red wine vinegar
White wine vinegar
Any other vinegar of choice
4. Salty Component
Salt enhances the flavor of foods, and is added to many foods to bring out flavors and make them taste better. Despite that, many people need to reduce their salt intake for health reasons, while others want to reduce or omit added salt to prevent health concerns. There are ingredient options to choose from below that can be used if added salt is something you want to avoid.
Celery (Yes, celery added to a dressing will give it a salty flavor without any added salt)
Dulse or kelp flakes
Fermented vegetable brine
5. Spicy/Savory/Herb Additions
These ingredients are optional, but will certainly add flavor to your dressing and will give it that distinct flavor you want your dressing to have. The list in this category is endless, so it’s impossible to include everything. Let your salad ingredients and other dressing ingredients be your guide on what to add so your dressing will have the flavor you hope for. Let your taste buds be your guide as to how much to add.
Chile peppers of choice
Bell peppers (with or without seeds)
Cucumber (with or without seeds)
Onion (fresh or powdered)
Garlic (fresh or powdered)
Ginger (fresh or powdered)
Turmeric (fresh or powdered)
Also, any prepared herb blend or salt substitute seasoning blend that you like may be used.
6. Sweet Component
If you look at bottled salad dressings, most of them contain added sugar. There’s a reason for this. Sugar makes things taste good. Despite that, we’ve learned that added white, refined sugar is far from a healthful component in foods. So, we’re trying to avoid it. Hence, we won’t include white sugar in this list. Nevertheless, a little added sweetener of some type will enhance the flavor of your dressing, so this category should not be overlooked. It’s an optional ingredient, but can make a difference in the flavor of your finished dressing. Which sweet component you choose WILL add distinct flavor to your dressing, so choose one that will blend well with your other components.
Dates or date sugar
Fresh fruit (in general)
Berries of choice
Sweet cherry juice
All fruit jam
After placing all the other ingredients in a blender and processing them, you’ll probably find that the mixture is way too thick and dry to be called a dressing or sauce. You’ll need to add some liquid to thin it out to be the consistency you want. The liquid you choose can simply be water, which will dilute all flavors in the mix. Or, you could choose to add a liquid that will enhance your flavors, mellow them out, add creaminess to it, or even duplicate (and enhance) a flavor that’s already in your mixture.
Here are examples of possible liquids to add to your dressing. Add whatever amount you need to bring it to the consistency you want. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Milk of choice
Fruit juice of choice
Place all of your ingredients into a high-speed blender, with a small amount of your liquid of choice. Blend until smooth. Add more liquid as needed to make the dressing the consistency you want. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Enjoy!
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.