The question I get asked most by people who are just beginning to follow an oil-free diet is “If you don’t use oil, what do you put on your salad?” Frankly, getting used to salads without olive oil can be difficult, though I do believe you can train your taste buds to enjoy salads without oil if you add enough flavor to them. It’s not enough just to remove the oil from any old salad dressing; you have to replace it with a liquid that will dilute the power of the vinegar in the dressing, add some body so that the dressing isn’t watery, and add flavor. Here are a few of my tips for making fat-free but tasty vegan salad dressing.
Tips for converting an oily dressing into an oil-free one:
- If you don’t mind a sweeter dressing, replace the oil with orange juice or other fruit juice.
- Replace the oil with aquafaba–the broth from a can or pot of chickpeas.
- Try replacing the oil with vegetable broth plus one of the thickeners below.
- Replace the oil with water, but double the herbs and spices and add a thickener.
- Add a thickener. Some people add xanthan or guar gum, which can be tricky to use, but I prefer using ground flax seeds or chia seeds, both of which form a gel when combined with liquids. Chia seeds have the advantage of not needing to be ground first, and their lighter flavor and appearance (if you use the white chia) make them better for dressings. And both are great sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Start with a teaspoon per cup of dressing, blend well (with a blender, if you like), and allow to stand until thickened. Add more if necessary to achieve the thickness you desire.
- Add dijon or coarse-ground mustard. A couple of teaspoons per cup of dressing will add zing without being overwhelming.
- Add a little nutritional yeast for a richer, more savory flavor.
- Blending in just a small amount of higher-fat ingredients such as nuts, olives, or avocado can give flavor and body to your dressing without a lot of fat–as long as you don’t overdo it.
- Be careful with raw garlic, which can easily overpower your dressing if you use too much of it. Naturally dehydrated granulated garlic or garlic powder is a good alternative for infusing a dressing with garlic flavor with less risk of “garlic burn.”
- Fresh is best for herbs, but if you’re using dried, allow time for the leaves to rehydrate and the flavors to blend. Most fat-free dressings will taste better after chilling for a while.
- Experiment with different vinegars: balsamic, red wine, and white wine are standard, but fruit-flavored vinegars such as raspberry, fig, or blood orange can add a different dimension to your usual salad dressing.
- It’s surprisingly easy to make a creamy dressing low-fat. Just substitute silken tofu for mayonnaise and vegan yogurt instead of buttermilk. You can also make your own soy buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of soymilk and let stand until curdled.
- If you absolutely cannot stand oil-free dressing, try reducing the amount of oil a little at a time, using some of the replacements suggested here.
- There’s evidence that some fat helps your body absorb the nutrients in salad. Rather than use oil, which has been stripped of all nutrients but fat, I recommend adding nuts, seeds, or avocado to your salad.
What are your tips for making oil-free dressings? Let me know in the comments.
Here’s an easy, creamy dressing that I threw together in just a few minutes. I used a salt-free seasoning, Mr. Spice House, as a short-cut to avoid having to measure many different herbs. You can use any combination of herbs you like, adding more to taste as you go. Though the percentage of calories from fat in this recipe is what I would call higher-fat (over 15%), notice that the overall number of grams of fat is low (about 1) and a serving is 3 tablespoons, instead of the 2 tablespoons that most bottled dressings call a serving–great for those of use who like a lot of dressing on our salads!
Ridiculously Easy Vegan Buttermilk Salad Dressing
- 1/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt or other non-dairy yogurt
- 1/2 cup plain soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
- 1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (start with 1 tbsp. and add more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon salt-free seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash or Mr. Spice House
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 small clove garlic
- 1 green olive
- 1/2 teaspoon chia seed (optional, for thickness)
- salt (to taste)
- Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add salt and additional seasonings to taste. Chill until ready to serve. Stir before serving.
Nutritional info is approximate.
More Salad Dressings:
- Smoked Paprika Dressing
- Lite Goddess Dressing
- Orange-Sesame Dressing
- Salad Dressings at Fatfree Vegan Recipes
On another note:
I try to keep this blog focused on food, but recently I got the chance to talk about myself with Nikki Jong at menuism.com. Check out the interview.
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Janet VandenabeeleJune 14, 2012 at 9:54 am
Thanks for this! I have to cut out my extraneous fat intake and cannot abide store-bought fat free dressings. They taste fake and are always too sweet and watery. Yuck. Plus, I absolutely ADORE The Spice House. I’ve never tried their Mr. Spice House blend, but I will now.
RichardAugust 12, 2012 at 6:01 pm
Are Walden Farm products considered to be Vegan?
Susan VoisinAugust 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm
Some of them may be “accidentally” vegan, but looking at their web page, I see blue cheese and egg whites are used in some products. Plus, on their Special Diets page, no mention of dairy-free or vegan diets is made at all.
Livie LeonardDecember 8, 2012 at 9:38 pm
Unexpectedly, the local Grocery Outlet sported unsweetened soy yoghurt. Time to try out this recipe. It turned out even better than expected. I used Trader Joe’s “21 Seasoning Salute” spice mixture, almond milk, replaced the green olive with capers, and added caramelized garlic. I have not been able to find chia seeds so I left those out. The dressing turned out splendid, especially after putting it in the fridge for a while to let the flavours develop. I am pretty sure that the nonvegans in the family will be easily fooled in believing that this is a dairy/cheese based dressing :).
Grandpa RonDecember 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm
Hi, Listmom, I have a question. The split pea recipe with cauliflower looks great and want to try it. However my pressure cooker blew it’s stack all over the kitchen (cleaned most of the lenils up but not off the ceiling – who look at the ceiling anyway?).
You posted a lentil recipe and recently and said you never tried it in a slow cooker, so since my pressure cooker went to that great gourmet in the sky to serve, any idea how to adapt this to slow cooker? No need to publish my ramblings. We old coots do that. Just email me and have a great and amazing Christmas.
Much love and love much,
Priya YallapantulaMarch 5, 2013 at 11:10 am
wow, loving this dressing. I recently learnt about chia seeds. Using so far in juices and made a pudding (recipe is on my blog). I would love to try this dressing next.
When I make it, I am going to post it on my blog and refer to your site. Hope that is ok 🙂
KimOctober 4, 2013 at 11:47 am
Just made it and I have to say this is delicious!!! I used plain almond yogurt (oh how I miss Whole Soy yogurt.) I added a little tarragon because I have recently become a tarragon-addict! Thank you for the suggestion to put it on a baked potato. I am always looking for better ways to flavor potatoes.
Wendy CromwellOctober 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm
I just discovered the joy of hummus on my baked potato!
Wendy CromwellOctober 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm
My favorite oil free dressing is balsamic vinegar, water, mustard, agave, and whatever herbs strikes my fancy. Love the sweet/sour taste and never once have I missed the high fat dressings.
JillOctober 5, 2015 at 7:34 pm
I’ve been making soy yogurt in my Instant Pot and using it as a base for creamy dressings. I’ve tried curry, Ranch, Caesar, a garlic herby Italian one, and spicy salsa.
JillJanuary 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm
Just made this using soy yogurt I made in my IP and added chopped jalapenos. Didn’t have the olive so omitted that. OMG it’s good. I hope I don’t use it up before my friends get here tonight!
HelenJune 12, 2016 at 10:39 am
I love to add creamy white miso . Gives texture and a wonderful savoury taste. Makes lovely hot white sauces for vegetables too. I use the brand ‘Clearspring’. Try simply mixing it with brown rice vinegar and a little mustard. Fermented so very healthy (unless you are avoiding sodium in which case forget it!)
A little goes a long way flavour wise,
cherylr mortensenJanuary 17, 2017 at 12:04 pm
Myself I am going through the’change’ and found corn, soy and almond milk causes hormone issues. Makes your body heat up and causes brain -fog.
I found coconut milk, oil, cream is like Tufu it blends into anything.
I found milk has 10% Formalyde per gallon. I know for fact because my cousins run a dairy farm. They drink raw milk, no processed milk ever.
We do not like dairy, vinegar of any kind, GMOs’ are unknowns what the processed foods. Looking for a simple recipe for ground and oil of flaxseed.
Thank you for your page and more info that helps.
MollyMarch 20, 2018 at 12:29 pm
Hi Susan – Brand new here and I want to thank you for posting this. I was looking for a “rule of thumb” for oil free dressings. I read through a few of your recipes and the comments here! My takeaways are adding hummus, mustard, flaxseed, nutritional yeast, water + spices, avocados, salsa/pico, relish/pickles, olives, nuts! What great tips and can’t wait to explore here. Let me know if I’m missing anything glaring 🙂
MelissaOctober 16, 2018 at 8:01 pm
I love this buttermilk dressing! Thanks!