Why Summer Is the Time to Add Dairy to Your Vinaigrettes
Usually when it comes to salad dressing, the debate is between two schools, punchy vinaigrettes or decadent creamy dressings like ranch or blue cheese. But sometimes these dressings can overwhelm salads instead of highlighting them. This is especially true in the late spring and early summer, when the greens and vegetables that make up our salads are more delicate and subtly flavored. When you're tossing newly sprouted lettuces, micro greens, early asparagus, tender pea shoots, or baby zucchini, they can't stand up to the weight of a heavier cream salad, and their nuanced flavors can be swamped by the acidity of a strong vinaigrette.
The answer? A creamy vinaigrette!
Enter my favorite summer salad dressing, the creamy vinaigrette. Adding dairy to a standard vinaigrette smooths the rough edges on the acid, tempering the bite and enhancing the vegetables, while providing that little bit of luxury that a creamy dressing invokes. The fat in the dairy carries flavor, but also provides some extra cling to the dressing, which means you need less of it to coat your salad.
The best part? It is super easy to make a creamy vinaigrette with either a little addition or an ingredient swap. Bonus points for using up that little bit of leftover dairy—unsweetened whipped cream, sour cream, crème fraiche, or yogurt—in the refrigerator.
How to make a creamy vinaigrette
As promised, this couldn't be easier: If you have a vinaigrette already made, or a bottled one you love, simply shake it up with 1 tablespoon at a time of your chosen dairy until you get a flavor and texture you like, and then re-season to taste with salt and pepper.
If you are making a fresh vinaigrette, replace ¼-⅓ of the volume of oil called for in the recipe with your dairy. You may want to also go for a milder oil here, like avocado oil, canola, or grapeseed instead of a more robustly flavored extra virgin olive oil.
Best greens for creamy vinaigrette
These creamy vinaigrettes work best with delicate lettuces like butter lettuce, spring mix, or baby greens and early spring vegetables or those with mild flavors like asparagus, zucchini, summer squash, peas or pea shoots, scallions, fava beans, or fiddlehead ferns. But it is also a wonderful lighter take on a potato salad: Just toss with steamed or boiled new potatoes and some chopped herbs. It's also a great way to dress a pasta salad.
My favorite creamy vinaigrette
My favorite version of this creamy dressing is a basic lemon Dijon with the addition of heavy cream and minced chives. I use 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, and 4 of avocado oil, adding some minced chives and seasoned with salt and pepper. See if you don't love this one, too!