5 Common Salad Dressing Mistakes That Separate Your Salads From a Pro's

If you’re still eating salad out of obligation, instead of with enthusiasm — this is for you.

Salad gets a bad rap. Too often, I think, we consider something to be eaten as some sort of punishment — a food that is all nutrition with no enjoyment. But it doesn't have to be that way. Vegetables are delicious, remember? Given the right treatment, they can be totally satisfying, and just as craveable as any carby, meaty comfort food. For salads, the key lies in the dressing.

A good dressing can level-up all of the flavors in a salad, adding richness, salt, and generally bringing the whole dish together. That said, salad dressings are easy to get tripped up on; not because they're actually difficult to make, but because there's a lot of bad information out there. Here are some of the most common salad dressing mistakes I see people making, and how to avoid them.

You're only using store-bought dressing.

Listen, I get it. Store-bought salad dressing is an appealing convenience, especially if you're not entirely comfortable making your own. But these dressings are typically full of artificial flavorings and stabilizers that affect the flavor. Ideally, you're making a salad full of delicious, fresh ingredients that you're excited to eat. Adding a dressing that's been sitting on a shelf for months is going to make the whole thing taste less vibrant and tasty. Which brings me to my next point.

overhead view of Spinach, Nectarine, and Halloumi Salad in a bowl
Brie Passano

You're making it too complicated.

If the idea of making a salad dressing from-scratch brings to mind lots of measuring, stirring, and complicated ingredients, reconsider. You can make a dressing as simple as a good drizzle of olive oil, a generous squeeze of lemon (or a splash of vinegar), and a sprinkle of salt. You don't even have to use a separate bowl to make it. When I'm making a weekday salad, I'll throw everything in the bowl I'm about to use, then drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss. Once everything is lightly coated in olive oil, squeeze a lemon over it and taste. Congratulations, you just made a perfect, three-ingredient salad dressing.

You're under-seasoning.

Salads typically contain a lot of water-based ingredients. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other raw vegetables need a lot of salt to taste their best. It's easy to forget that, but when you're making a dressing, you'll need to add a good pinch of salt to it. I also always like to taste again after I've tossed the dressing with the salad components, and I typically end up adding even a little more salt — just to make sure everything tastes delicious, not like a bowl of plain raw vegetables.

You don't have a salad spinner.

Getting lettuce and other leafy greens clean can be a pain, but if you don't have a way to get them dry after washing, that's even more annoying. Waterlogged lettuce will go bad faster in your refrigerator, and salad dressing won't stick to wet greens. And if your dressing is at hanging out at the bottom of the bowl instead of clinging to the lettuce, it's not doing you a whole lot of good.

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OXO Salad Spinner

OXO Salad Spinner

A salad spinner spins your greenery after you've washed it, which gently dries the lettuce without bruising or breaking it. You can even put the spinner directly into the refrigerator to store your lettuce in between meals.

You're not using a big enough bowl.

If you're trying to enhance your lunches in an effort to break your habit of buying $15 chopped salads at those fancy (delicious!) chains, this is the best tip I can give you: Build your salads in a bigger bowl. If you watch the people behind the bar at those salad chains, you'll notice that they use enormous bowls. That's because in order to properly toss a salad, allowing each bite to be equally coated in dressing, you need a lot of space. Next time you're making a salad, try using an exceptionally large bowl, and you'll see what I mean.


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