Portland Chefs Share Their Favorite Salad Dressing Recipes

It's easy enough to eat more salads—but it can be tricky to make them exciting. Here are 8 DIY dressing ideas that will keep you away from the bottle.

By Allison Jones December 23, 2014

What is it about restaurant salads that makes them so much more appealing than the bowl of greens we whip up at home? Sure, it could be the addition of chef-y ingredients like candied walnuts, top-shelf goat cheese, or a soft-boiled quail egg, but the real difference is in the dressing. Think of your favorite restaurant salad—it's the flavors of the dressing that stick with us, making us crave a pile of shredded kale or bitter rhadiccio that by any other measure should be a simple production to make at home.

In this, the season of salad ambitions, Portland chefs are here to help! Step away from the bottled dressings, stop contemplating yet another food cart lunch, and whip up one of these delicious blends you'll recognize from some of Portland's most lauded menus.

A pro-tip from the chefs? Make some dressing in bulk—it'll keep for a while in your fridge and encourage you to pack a salad for lunch or add some fresh greens to dinner, chef style.


The addictive Insalata Nostrana at Nostrana.

Image: Allison Jones

Cathy Whims' Insalata Nostrana Dressing

When is a salad a cult favorite? When it's a creamy, complex beauty like Nostrana's eponymous menu item, adapted from the LA restaurant Locanda Veneta. At Nostrana, the perpetual James Beard Award finalist Cathy Whims pours this dressing over bright and bitter radicchio (soaked in ice water for two hours to remove the bite). Here's how to make it at home:

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp white wine
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 anchovies in olive oil, finely chopped
  • egg yolks
  • 2 cloves garlic, pounded with a pinch of salt 

Process all ingredients in a food processor until emulsified. Done!

St Jack's Red Wine-Dijon Vinaigrette

This fresh, herb-infused dressing has been a staple on the St. Jack menu since chef Aaron Barnett opened the original SE Clinton Street location in 2010, where it served as a fresh counterpart to the Lyonnaise bouchon's steak frites, boudin noir, and roasted bone marrow before making the jump to the restaurant's new Northwest Portland home.

  • 3 cups olive oil and canola blend oil (or a mild oil of your choice)
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dijon mustard
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon shallot
  • 3/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flake

Combine ingredients and let marinate overnight or for up to one week. Strain and keep in your refrigerator in a mason jar for up to two weeks. For an extra herb punch a la St. Jack's butter lettuce salad, add a tablespoon of chopped chives, tarragon, and parsley before tossing into your salad. 

Biwa's Miso Salad Dressing

This punchy dressing does wonders for any salad, but Biwa izakaya owner Gabe Rosen likes to use it on thinly sliced daikon radish and mizuna lettuce.  

Pound 1 small garlic clove using a mortar and pestle (or mince very finely and mash with the side of a knife). In a small bowl, mix garlic with 1 tbsp olive oil1 tbsp orange juice2 tsp rice vinegar1 tbsp miso*1 pinch black pepper, and salt to taste until well blended.

*Rosen recommends white or yellow miso, an all-purpose, “supermarket” miso that is aged a few months and is great for marinades and salad dressings.

Image: Nomad

Ken's Artisan Olive oil and Lemon dressing

Want to add some oomph to your greens? Toss in some grilled bread, advises Portland baking guru Ken Forkish, the man behind Ken's Artisan Pizza, Ken's Artisan Bakery, and Trifecta. 

  • ½ tsp diced shallots
  • 1 pinch chile flakes
  • 2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice or champagne vinegar
  • 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste 

Combine first three ingredients in a bowl, slowly whisk in olive oil until emulsified, and season with salt.  

SE Wine Collective's Creamy Green Goddess Dressing         

The wine collective's new in-house chef Althea Grey Potter uses this rich, herbaceous dressing on butter lettuce, as a dip with radishes and fennel, mixed with chicken for an easy chicken salad, or dolloped as a sauce for fish.

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (chives, mint, parsley, and tarragon)
  • 2 lemons, juice and zest
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, puree all ingredients until smooth.

Ecliptic Brewing's Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Ecliptic chef Michael Molitor follows the celestial calendar in his kitchen, and he updates his menu every six weeks with seasonal ingredients. Here's his recipe for a nutty vinaigrette you can pour on greens, winter squash, beets, and more. At the restaurant, Molitor mixes it with a variety of chicories—radicchio, treviso, endive, castelfranco, pan de zucchero—along with poached quince, Rogue blue cheese, and crushed hazelnuts. 
  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 oz. roasted hazelnuts (small handful)
  • 1 cup hazelnut oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • salt and black pepper
Roughly chop shallot.  Place in blender with dijon, honey, vinegar and hazelnuts.  Puree mixture, and slowly add oil while blending.  Thin with the water if vinaigrette becomes too thick.  Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Cocotte's Bacon Vinaigrette

Haven't you heard? Bacon can totally be a health food—especially when you choose bacon from sustainably raised pigs and pair it with a rainbow of veggies. Cocotte's Kat LeSueur whips up this easy dressing for full-bodied salads of bitter greens and chicories.

  • 4 strips of bacon, diced
  • 1 shallot, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil (or light-tasting oil of choice)
  • 3 sprigs thyme, picked

Saute bacon and render fat. Add shallot and cook until translucent. Add vinegar and transfer to blender. Puree while adding canola oil. Add thyme at end, adjust seasoning as needed. 

Cafe Castagna's Middle Eastern Yogurt Sauce

 "I use this sauce for just about anything," shares Cafe Castagna's Wesley Johnson, who has recently taken the SE Hawthorne establishment in a new Middle-Eastern direction. "Its a great sub for mayo. It is a great base sauce, you can add just about anything to it. It is awesome." Here's how to make it:

Mince 1/2 a clove of garlic. Cover minced garlic with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and let sit for 5 minutes. Add 1 and 1/2 cups strained yogurt (or thick greek yogurt) in a mixing bowl. Add the lemon garlic mixture to taste, it doesn’t take much, just a little support for the yogurt. Mix with a whisk and salt to taste—this will take more salt than you think. When the seasoning and texture are where you want it, add 1 teaspoon of good olive oil to round off any sharp edges.

Full Belly Fare's Pear Lemon Dressing

This spectacular winter salad knocked our socks off when we were investigating Portland's healthiest meal delivery services. Like many of Lyla Wolfenstein's homespun recipes, this pear-based dressing provides a major flavor punch while staying vegan, gluten-free, low-fat and super healthy. 
  • 1-2 ripe pears, any kind but very soft
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 1-2 lemons
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • White pepper to taste
  • Honey to taste 
  • Pinch of cumin (optional)

Put garlic in blender, food processor, or in a container big enough for an immersion blender, and puree, add lemon and peeled, cored pears, and puree together with garlic, drizzle in the olive oil while motor running to incorporate - don't use too much or the emulsion will be too thick and oily, this dressing is mostly pear and lemon! Season with salt, white pepper, and optional cumin and mix. 

For a true winter treat, toss dressing with lacinato kale and sprinkle on toasted pine nuts and pomegranate jewels. During strawberry season, add a few strawberries to the pear dressing before pureeing for a vibrantly colorful and delicious version.

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