Skip to content

7 Expert Shortcuts to Tasty Homemade Salad Dressings

May 11, 2024

When it’s warm outside, it’s time for our favorite salads to take center stage again. Whether green salads, grain salads, pasta salads, or others are on the menu, the dressing is often the key component that turns a salad from a motley assortment of ingredients into a cohesive dish.Though bottled varieties are convenient, it’s easier than you might think to whip up your own healthy salad dressing — and it’s worth it for flavor, budget, and nutrition. 

“There are some great store-bought salad dressings, but a homemade salad dressing always allows you more control over the ingredients,” says Avery Zenker, MS, RD. “This can help align with your nutritional needs and goals, as well as your budget.” 

Related: Sign up to receive delicious recipes, expert advice, and shopping tips in your inbox!

You asked: What can I put on a salad if I don’t have dressing?

You can always use a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or lime if you’re out of dressing — but the truth is, just because you’re out of traditional dressing doesn’t mean you can’t make your own with what you have on hand. 

“You may not realize just how many pantry or fridge staples that are already in your home can work perfectly to create fresh, nutrient dense, plant-forward dressings,” says Maya Feller, RD. “Plus, it can be a fun and creative process.” 

Utilizing several of our favorite fridge and pantry staples, here are 7 shortcuts to easy, tasty dressings you can mix up in a flash.

1. Hummus



If you’re already in the habit of dipping veggies in hummus as a healthy snack, then it will be no surprise how well it can work as the base of a healthy salad dressing. Made from a mix of chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil, “Hummus is a nice source of plant-based protein and fiber that adds a rich texture without using dairy,” says Feller. It can even stand in for a quick-and-easy caesar dressing, if you add a little grated parmesan. Feller also suggests thinning hummus with apple cider vinegar and adding crushed garlic for extra flavor. 

2. Plain yogurt



Another option that adds both texture and protein to your favorite salads is plain yogurt — and you can use any style or thickness you have on hand, as long as it’s unflavored and unsweetened. “Yogurt adds a tangy creaminess to dressings and is also rich in probiotics, which promote gut health,” says Zenker. “It works well with herbs and spices like dill, garlic, and onion.” 

Feller also notes that yogurt, as a fermented food, can be easier to digest for those who are lactose intolerant. “I like to combine yogurt with cucumber, garlic, and onion for a dip, or for a dressing, I just add olive oil and white balsamic vinegar to it,” she says. Or, make a yogurt-based ranch with chives, dill, garlic, and lemon.

3. Miso



Made from fermented soybeans, miso is a key ingredient to add depth of flavor to soups or cooked sauces, but it can also be a great start to an easy, flavorful salad dressing. “Miso paste adds a savory umami flavor to dressings and can serve as a natural emulsifier,” says Zenker, who likes to combine it with rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, and a splash of soy sauce for an Asian-inspired dressing. “Miso paste is fermented,” she adds, “so it’s rich in probiotics and can support a healthy gut.”

4. Ketchup or tomato paste



Ketchup can be a nice base for salad dressings,” says Feller. She suggests reading the ingredients list to make sure you’re choosing a product with minimal or no added sugar. 

Tomato paste can also provide a similar base, though it may need a touch of sweetness from honey. “Tomato paste goes well in a dressing with oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and herbs like basil,” says Zenker.

5. Nut butters

peanut butter


Nut butters like peanut butter, almond butter, or cashew butter add creaminess to dressings, along with healthy fats, protein, and essential minerals,” says Zenker. “Nut butter goes well with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and perhaps some pepper flakes for spice.” 

6. Zhoug or pesto



Pesto’s Middle Eastern cousin, zhoug, is one of our favorite staples from Trader Joe’s, and you can easily transform either herb sauce into a healthy salad dressing. “Zhoug is usually a thicker sauce that may lend itself to roasted veggies or heartier greens,” says Feller. “It can be thinned with vinegar or water to get to your desired consistency to dress more delicate options.” 

According to Zenker, zhoug and pesto are “rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, and can go well alone, or mixed with yogurt to make a creamier dressing.”

7. Mustard



“Mustard is a wonderful emulsifier,” says Feller, “and pairs well with white balsamic vinegar and oil for a slightly tangy dressing that can be used on vegetables as well as proteins.” Like ketchup, mustard can be more than just a binder in a salad dressing; it can serve as the primary ingredient. 

A variety of flavored mustards make for especially interesting options, from everything bagel mustard, to tarragon mustard, or honey mustard. “Mustard adds a lot of flavor and acidity to dressings,” says Zenker. “It typically already contains vinegar, so additional acid may not be required, but it goes well with other flavors such as black pepper, garlic, and onion. Mustard doesn’t provide significant nutrients, but it is low in calories, fats, and sugars.” 

Read next: Ranking the 10 Best Trader Joe’s Salad Kits

Good food
people together.
So do
good emails.

What our editors love right now

Good food brings people together.
So do good emails.

  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden