What makes a good salad great? We’re answering just that in The Great Salad Shake-Up, a mini-series on everything from the right lettuce for you (it’s out there!) to how to ditch the oil in dressing (yes, you can). BYO salad spinner.
A classic vinaigrette has a magic ratio—three parts oil to one part vinegar. These days though, many cookbook authors and recipe developers favor a zingier formula—two parts oil to one part vinegar, or even one to one for an especially rich salad.
But what would happen if you skipped the oil altogether?
You’d get a ton of new-favorite salad dressings. If we think of oil as fat, then the substitute for oil becomes clear: something else that’s fatty. And why should oil get to have all the fun anyway?
Here are five ingredients that make stellar substitutes, plus some of our favorite ways to use them.
If a salad dressing calls for mayonnaise (or emulsifies egg yolks to make one), consider that your cue to swap in Greek yogurt. You can use nonfat or lowfat, but whole milk will give you the fullest flavor and creamiest result. (What about sour cream? you ask. Go for it! And invite me over when you do.) Unstrained yogurt also works, but will turn out runnier. This ingredient excels in creamy dressings, like Ranch, Russian, or Caesar. In her cookbook, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner...Life chef Missy Robbins swaps out olive oil and egg yolks with yogurt to make a “semi-healthy” Caesar salad. It calls for plain yogurt, but she says, “Greek yogurt is great, too.”
You’re making guacamole. But, instead of leaving it chunky and chip dip-able, you add even more lime juice (or lemon or vinegar), and oops, you spill some water in there, too. Meet: avocado vinaigrette. For the silkiest, smoothest dressing, use a food processor or blender (though, between us, I’ve used a fork and no one complained). The recipe below uses a splash of oil, which you can omit, or replace with Greek yogurt or tahini. This is great on lean salads that could use some TLC, or anything with croutons (think avocado toast).
3. Creamy-Crumbly Cheese
Cheeses like blue, goat, and feta dream of being turned into salad dressing. All you have to do is crumble the cheese into a bowl, add something even creamier (yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream), plus some vinegar or lemon juice, and minced herbs (like dill or chives). It’s mostly cheese, which is to say, it’s good on everything. But it’s especially good on juicy, spicy vegetables, like radicchio and radishes, and salads topped with protein, like crispy chicken or a soft-boiled egg. Psst: If a cheesy dressing calls for mayo (like the one below), remember you can swap in Greek yogurt.
You don’t need to come here often to know how much our test kitchen loves tahini. We turn it into everything from smashed eggplant toast to chocolate chip cookies, but salad dressing might be our most common use of all. The most basic version is little more than just tahini, lemon juice, and water, all of which you can adjust to taste and sight. My favorite recipes feature punchy additions like ground spices (turmeric, cumin), condiments (Dijon, horseradish), spice pastes (harissa, Calabrian chiles), and sweeteners (maple syrup, honey).
5. Any Nut Butter
Almond butter and orange juice sound like a breakfast in the making, but they’re actually the solid foundation for a newfangled vinaigrette. Our contributor Gena Hamshaw combines them with white miso, grated ginger, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and minced garlic, and gets a dressing that any salad would swoon over. What’s more: You can use this formula with any nut butter you’ve got lying around, like peanut or cashew.