The chances are good that you have a few containers of salad dressing in your home refrigerator right now. Whether they're plastic bottles of store-bought dressing or a homemade variety sealed in glass Mason jars, salad dressings are great sources of flavor. With their inherently balanced sweet and tangy qualities and just the right amount of herbs, spices, and seasonings, salad dressings offer a quick and easy solution to various “tasteless” kitchen conundrums.
A number of salad dressings are made by combining a fat (like oil) and an acidic ingredient (like vinegar or citrus juice) with other ingredients that contribute sweetness, spice, or earthiness to the finished dressing. Because fats and oils are flavor-carriers — meaning they easily absorb flavors, allowing them enhance the taste of other ingredients — these vinaigrette-style dressings can be used in a variety of ways. When added to meat, grain, or cooked vegetable dishes, the oil helps distribute herbs and spices throughout the entire dish ensuring more flavor in every bite. What’s more, the oil coats your tongue, allowing you to experience flavors more fully and for longer periods of time.
Salad dressings are also (usually) well-balanced in flavor. With their careful combination of sweetness (from elements like honey or fruit juice), tangier ingredients like vinegars, sour citrus juices, or mustards, and deeper more complex flavors from herbs, spices, and seasonings salad dressings are a great way to enhance otherwise bland or boring dishes — especially if you are unfamiliar with seasoning blends or are unsure how to balance flavors. Salad dressing takes some of the guesswork out of flavoring foods.
Dressings are a great complement to leafy greens and lettuce-based salads, but their usefulness doesn't end there. If you have a few bottles you're looking to use up (and don't feel like making a salad), try these other creative and delicious uses for salad dressing:
Make a Dipping Sauce
Add ranch dressing to a mashed up avocado for a delicious dipping sauce for crackers and crudités. You could also use this sauce as a spread on burgers or sandwiches.
Make a Marinade
Oil-based Italian salad dressing makes a great marinade for grilled chicken and steaks. If you’re planning on grilling burgers, try adding Italian dressing directly into your ground meat mix.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal's Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.