Chef Sam Hanison’s salad dressings to try…

Salad Dressings

  • Salad dressings are all about sweet and sour, or agrodolce as the Italians call it. It is the most addictive flavour combination in the chef’s palate. Learn the ratio of sweet to sour that you like best – most oils are slightly sweet in flavour, incidentally. If in doubt, I would suggest adding more sour (usually in the form of vinegar or citrus).
  • Which oil you use matters. Olive oils cover a spectrum of flavours from the peppery early-season oils (which sometimes have an almost acrid aftertaste) to the softer late-season ones. Taste your olive oil. If it is too powerful for your palate, dilute it with rapeseed or sunflower oil. Also, be aware that oils can go stale if left in the heat (eg by the stove) or in sunlight.
  • Make more than you need. You can keep it in the fridge in a jar for ages.
  • Season carefully. Taste for salt, pepper, sweet and sour. Before you dress the salad (the point of no return) dip a leaf into the dressing, taste and adjust the flavours if necessary.
  • If you are using raw garlic in a dressing, it is best to smash it to a paste with a little salt – this breaks it down more than a garlic crusher can. The flavour will spread more evenly through the mix, and you won’t get little lumps floating in your dressing.

Classic lemon and olive oil

This is a very easy dressing that is useful for strong-flavoured leaf salads, such as rocket, mizuna, or mustard leaves. You can add a little water to this dressing (maybe a teaspoon) to thin it slightly and give it more delicacy.

1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Whisk together, taste and adjust seasoning.

Leon house dressing

A French classic. Adds real punch to those old‑fashioned lettuce leaves.

40g dijon mustard
80ml white wine vinegar
350ml rapeseed oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Whisk the mustard and vinegar in a bowl. While still running, slowly add the rapeseed oil until you have a fully emulsified dressing. Season carefully.


Red onion and shallot

Use this with roasted beetroot and lentils, topped with goat’s cheese or feta.

1 red onion or shallot
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Combine the onion, vingegar and sugar, then season. Leave for about an hour. Then add the olive oil and stir well.

Honey and mustard

For those who prefer something sweeter. Also a great dressing to go with avocado halves. Simply whisk it all together and season.

1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp runny honey
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
100ml sunflower oil
Salt and black pepper


This is a lovely dressing for French beans. Blanch French beans and runners and add them to the dressing while they are still warm. Finish with finely diced apple, shaved fennel and chopped chives.

100g walnuts
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A drizzle of olive oil

Mix the walnuts with the other ingredients and bake at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Crush gently and add to the honey and mustard dressing above along with 1 tbsp of walnut oil.




Best for drizzling over fresh tomatoes, grilled courgettes or a tomato salad.

A bunch of basil
1 garlic clove, crushed
100ml olive oil
A pinch of salt and black pepper

Remove the leaves from the basil and blend with the rest of the ingredients.

Pink peppercorn and elderflower dressing

It is good to use in salads containing avocado, asparagus or even strawberries, but is equally delicious with crisp lettuce..

1 tbsp pink peppercorns
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp elderflower cordial
75ml groundnut oil
75ml single cream
1tbsp chopped chives
Salt and pepper

1 Grind the pink peppercorns roughly, either in spice grinder or in a pestle and mortar.

2 Place in a liquidiser with the rest of the ingredients and blend together until an emulsion is formed. Season well.


Vinegars are ubiquitous in the kitchen. This ingredient is used in cooking and baking; for making salad dressings, to transform milk into a buttermilk substitute, and in marinades. Which type of vinegar should you use when cooking and baking?

  • Balsamic vinegar is the most expensive because it is aged for a long period of time. The longer it’s aged, the sweeter and thicker it gets, and the more expensive too. You can find white balsamic vinegar and red balsamic vinegar; choose the type according to the recipe. If you’re making a light colored salad dressing, purchased the white balsamic. Buy several different types of balsamic vinegar for different uses. Less expensive vinegars are used for marinades and salad dressings where there are lots of other ingredients. The really expensive balsamic vinegars that are aged for years in oak are used to drizzle over cheese and greens as an appetizer, or as a garnish or finishing touch to many recipes.
  • Red and white wine vinegars are more ‘everyday’ vinegars. They are good for salad dressings and marinades. Red wine vinegar is best used with heartier flavors and foods, like beef, pork, and vegetables. White wine vinegar is best for chicken and fish dishes. Champagne vinegar and white wine vinegars are light in color, so are good for dressing lighter foods like pale greens, chicken, and fish.
  • Apple cider vinegar is mild and inexpensive; it’s the one I use most often when making salad dressings. Since it is mild, it’s a good choice for marinating fish or chicken. It’s also good for making Flavored Vinegars. Flavored vinegars should be stored in the refrigerator, because some dangerous bacteria such as E. coli can grow in acidic environments.
  • Rice vinegar is the mildest of all, with much less acidity than other vinegars. It’s often used in Asian or Chinese cooking.
  • Plain distilled vinegar is made from grain alcohol and has a very sharp, unpleasant taste. Use it in very small quantities; it’s best to add a bit to milk to ‘create’ a buttermilk substitute, or for cleaning purposes.
  • All vinegars should be stored tightly closed in a cool, dark place. They will last for about a year after opening; after that time, the flavors will diminish. Purchase expensive vinegars in very small quantitites and be sure to use them within one year.
  • Lemon and lime juices can be substituted for red wine, white wine, apple cider, and rice wine vinegars. Don’t use them in place of balsamic vinegar, because you won’t get the same depth of flavor.


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