From show-stealing starters to mouthwatering main courses, salads are a fun and flavorful way to pack plenty of greens into your meals. A year round favorite of mine, a salad can be customized with a plethora of different seasonal ingredients from hearty Brussels sprouts in the fall and winter to light fruit like strawberries or watermelon in the spring and summer.
And while you may be familiar with my guide to delicious salad recipes, I really believe what ties everything together is the dressing. Of course, I have plenty of delicious and incredibly flavorful salad dressing recipe ideas to share. Whether you’re looking for an extra zip of flavor or a creamy taste added to every bite, read more about some of my favorites that will really make your next salad pop.
Whipping up a quick dressing is particularly perfect when I want to serve up some spontaneous brilliance! However, I also pay close attention to how I apply the dressing; the consistency and flavors of a dressing play an important role in the overall dish. Vinaigrettes provide a better coating: they give a splash of flavor without being too overwhelming. While vinaigrettes are an ideal option when it comes to tossing, more flavorful dressings or thicker sauces are better in moderation.
Take these common techniques using homemade dressings, for example:
Tossing a salad to incorporate dressing is the easiest way to make sure each and every bite packs plenty of flavor! Light vinaigrettes – a blend of oil, a mild acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, and salts, herbs and/or spice – nicely coat rice, quinoa, and pastas like orzo and couscous. After all, certain sides need the dressing to be well mixed in order to bring all the flavors together.
Tabbouleh is known for being light and refreshing, and this Couscous and Swiss Chard Tabbouleh is no exception. Plus, I love how the simple lemon vinaigrette has allspice and cayenne for a spicy kick. It’s one of my favorite salads to take along to summer barbecues as it only takes 20 minutes to prepare!
Chef’s Tip: While rice, grain, and pasta salad recipes may say to toss the salad in advance, I recommend saving a portion of dressing to fold in just before serving. This way, you’ll get the best of both worlds: deep flavors with the zip of a freshly tossed salad.
For an extra burst of tangy goodness, I like to double down on citrus! Not only do I reduce food waste by taking advantage of as much of a fruit as I can, I also pack more flavor on a plate, I want to get those tart notes with every bite of this Black Rice & Edamame Salad with Grapefruit Soy Dressing, not just when I have a forkful of grapefruit segments.
Chef Tip: After peeling a citrus fruit, hold it in one hand over a small bowl to catch segments and juice. Using a sharp knife, cut between membranes to release segments. Set the segments aside and measure the desired amount of juice for dressing or stir directly into rice.
For more delicious salad ideas that are best served tossed, try any of these three:
There are a couple reasons in which you may opt to drizzle on a dressing rather than mixing it well, uniformly coating your meal. When you have dressing that may contain flavors that may overpower the other ingredients on the plate, it’s best to add a delicate topping. Also, with thicker sauces, stirring proves to be easier said than done. While vinaigrettes can coat ingredients nicely, thicker sauces tend to get clumpy. That being said, nothing beats a thick sauce in moderation. There are plenty of bowls that not only look visually stunning but have just the right amount of flavor thanks to the flavor packed topping.
Take this Miso Black Rice Bowl for instance. The sweet undertones from this mellow miso, along with the maple syrup, really complement the stronger flavors from the sesame oil, lemon juice, ginger, garlic and cayenne pepper. It’s just robust enough to make it the perfect vegan dressing to be drizzled on a satisfying meal.
Ingredient Spotlight: I love working with white miso. As it is fermented for a shorter time, it has a milder, more delicate flavor than other varieties.
Why not make the most of a dressing by getting maximum flavor: let it double as a marinade! When I’m craving something spicy or if I am preparing a meal for my friends that can’t get enough heat, I love making Thai Beef Salad with Black Rice. After all, Thai bird’s-eye chili pepper packs quite a punch – much more than jalapeños. In this dish, the Plah Nua salad – cucumbers, tomatoes, shallots and mint – marinates in the dressing, intensifying the heat. Plus, RiceSelect® Discoveries™ Premium Black Rice serves as a perfect bed and really makes the lettuce wraps pop!
I never add anything to a plate that isn’t essential, so I love when I can use sauces to make plates look extra sophisticated. The smoother the sauce, the more beautiful the smear will look! So with thicker liquids or solid ingredients, I break out the blender. To get the creamy aromatic green goddess goodness used in this Green Goddess Pearl Couscous Salad Recipe, I purée yogurt and green onions with all sorts of fresh herbs until a smooth yogurt dressing forms.
Chef Tip: Smearing is a common plating technique used in high-end restaurants. Simply dollop a spoonful of thicker sauce on one side of the plate. Then, place the back of the spoon in the middle of the sauce and drag it across the plate, applying even pressure.
Though different dishes call for only one particular dressing technique, I’ve often found that a combination of techniques works well too. I like to coat a salad with a lighter dressing, while using a thicker, more powerful dressing as a drizzle. This tasty Chicken Shawarma & Turmeric Couscous Salad is the perfect example! It calls for a simple vinaigrette to be folded in uniformly; however, a tahini sauce is drizzled on top. After all, tahini has strong flavors – both nutty and earthy – that could easily overpower other flavors in the dish.
One final note I’d like to mention is that while dressing makes all the difference in a salad, adding proper garnish will surely take your dish to the next level. When you combine these two principles, the possibilities for picture perfect plates are endless!
How do I give salads an extra oomph? Sprinkle on a little something for that crunch you’re craving and squeeze a little citrus spritz on something like these Thai Pork Larb & Rice Salad Wraps. Or, sometimes I like to let the guests customize their plates by setting out accouterments – such as crackers, tostones, chips, veggie sticks, pretzels, pita chips – so they can choose exactly how they want their Royal Blend® Chicken Salad Recipe!
Continue your culinary journey and keep exploring in the kitchen! Serve up some spontaneous brilliance of your own with these other tips for home chefs and recipe inspiration using RiceSelect. Try our Aborio for more interesting ideas.