Salad dressing is, at its root, the mixture of an oil and an acid – usually vinegar or lemon. Bottled dressings tend to use low quality, cheaper oils, plus artificial flavors and an unhealthy amount of salt. If you start with a good quality oil, and use fresh herbs, you may find that you don’t even miss the salt. And remember that low salt doesn’t have to mean no salt; just a sprinkle can perk up flavors without adding a lot of sodium.
Start a dressing with extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin means it is from the first pressing of the olives, and this oil has the richest flavor. What is called pure olive oil has less flavor, and is considerably cheaper. You can use a mixture of the two in salad dressing to get more bang for your buck.
You can vary your dressing by adding a little hazelnut oil, which goes well with pears, or walnut oil, nice in a salad that has walnuts and/or apples in it. Sesame oil is good in salads that are accompanying an Asian meal. Most of these are too strongly flavored to use on their own, so they should be added to olive oil or to a neutral-tasting vegetable oil, like canola.
White vinegar doesn’t have much flavor, but red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar all add nuances of flavor. You can also squeeze fresh lemon and use that as your acid, but don’t use bottled juice, which can be bitter.
Mustard, diced shallots, fresh garlic and fresh herbs can all flavor dressing so well that you won’t miss salt. To start simply, whisk two tablespoons of red wine vinegar into six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and grind in a little fresh pepper. This olive oil vinaigrette will seem like an indulgence, not a dietary restriction.