Modern life is about managing a delicate balance in so many things—cost and convenience, quality and time, effort and reward. But some things are just a clear win: that’s how I’ve come to feel about making my own salad dressing.
I know, you’re thinking, “Salad dressing? Salad dressing of all things?” Yes, salad dressing.
I eat salad greens a lot, as an easy side veg that doesn’t require a lot of prep. I used to dress the lettuce with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, but I found it all sank to the bottom of the bowl. …Look, it’s not one of life’s great tragedies that the oil and vinegar inevitably slid off the lettuce, but it made eating my veggies a lot less fun.
Then I tried making my own dressing. I was inspired by aquafaba, a new thing that is actually a very overlooked old thing that is helping vegan food be better. Aquafaba means ‘bean water’, and that’s really all there is to it: it’s the thick, bean-y liquid that’s left after you’ve cooked beans. If you prefer canned beans, the liquid in the can is the same thing, and works just as well. (Usually aquafaba is used to describe the liquid from chickpeas since it’s pale-colored and neutral-tasting, but for many uses, any bean liquid will do.) You may be asking, how did aquafaba become a ‘thing’? A few years ago, some innovative chefs discovered that the water we usually discard after cooking our beans can behave in a similar way to egg whites. Ever since, people have used it for things like making meringues (even macarons!), replacing eggs in baking, and making mayonnaise. Which is where the salad dressing comes in.
Like in mayonnaise, a stable salad dressing requires emulsifying oil and vinegar. Basically, you have to use something to get the oil and vinegar to stay mixed together instead of separating. Aquafaba can fulfill that role, resulting in a delicious salad dressing that you can flavour any old way you like. And since balsamic vinegar is already dark, you can use whatever aquafaba you have—like from black beans or kidney beans—without worrying about discoloration. (Note that if you do use aquafaba for white mayo, or icing, or anything else where the end product should be white or light-coloured, you’ll need aquafaba from a light bean.)
Moreover, making your own salad dressing gives you full control over the ingredients—you can flavour it however you’d like, without making it as sweet as commercial dressings, without allergens or gluten, without dairy or eggs. In the dozen or so times I’ve made this dressing, I’ve learned to add flavour, and yes, to add just a bit of sweetener. Balsamic vinegar is flavourful but a little agave or maple syrup cuts a bit of the acidity and makes your taste buds sing.
Best of all, making this recipe takes about 45 seconds with a stick blender, lasts several days in the fridge, and really impresses. “You made this dressing?!”
Basic Balsamic Salad Dressing
Difficulty level: easy
Time: less than 5 minutes
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 2 tbsp. aquafaba (the cooking liquid from beans; for this recipe you can use the liquid from any bean, like chickpeas, pinto beans, navy beans, kidney beans, or black beans)
- 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup to ¾ cup olive oil or canola oil (olive oil will have a stronger olive taste, while canola oil will be more neutral)
- 1 to 2 tsp. agave or maple syrup
- ½ tsp. mustard powder
- ½ tsp. onion powder, granulated onion, or dried minced onion (or a very small amount of fresh minced onion—start small and add more after tasting if needed)
- ½ tsp. garlic powder, granulated garlic, or minced dried garlic (or a very small amount of fresh minced garlic—start small and add more after tasting if needed)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Add aquafaba, vinegar, and oil to a cup measure or other narrow container. (Tip: if you blend it in a bowl, the stick blender may not reach the liquid. A tall, narrow container is best! It just needs to be wide enough to fit the bottom of the stick blender.)
Start with a half-cup of oil, blend with the stick blender for a couple seconds, and then check consistency. Add a couple tablespoons of oil at a time, and then briefly blend until a suitable consistency has been achieved. Note it will thicken in the fridge, so if you’re not using all the salad dressing right away, err on the side of a little thinner. (Don’t stress, it’s easy enough to add more vinegar if it’s too thick or more oil if it’s too thin.)
Add remaining ingredients and blend briefly until combined. Store in the fridge in a covered container; it’s best used within a few days.