Creamy Upgrade: Tips for Elevating Your Salad

The word “salad” may for some people invoke the image of a sad plate of wilted lettuce, an obligatory side dish, or the order of a friend who’s always on a health kick. For others who play around with ingredients and dressings and aren’t afraid to add a little more, they can be an exciting and satisfying dish that one can look forward to or even crave. One way to make a salad a bit more filling and more delicious is to add ingredients or dressings that give it extra creaminess

Creaminess and salads have always gone together — just think of the bottled Italian dressing in your fridge, a classic Caeser salad, or your favorite potato salad. Creaminess means adding extra richness, substance, flavor, or all of the above and doesn’t always have to be achieved by adding cream (although that’s always an option, too). Gone are the days when salads are limited to just greens, or cut-up cucumber and tomatoes, there are multiple ways to give your salad a creamy upgrade. Some have existed in different cultures for ages, and some are because of new internet trends, but all are bound to take your salad to the next level. Here are a few of our favorite ways to do so.

1. Make a Thai peanut sauce

Peanut sauce in bowl

Adding peanut butter to a salad might sound strange, but if you’ve ever eaten a Thai salad with peanut satay-style dressing, you’ll get just how good it is. Peanut butter is a perfect consistency to shake up with other ingredients to make a dressing. It starts off really thick but as you add things like lime juice or a little water, it becomes a thin, but creamy dressing that will coat your salad in a beautiful nutty sauce.

Making a peanut dressing isn’t complicated — you can use an empty jar and add peanut butter with other ingredients like honey for some sweetness and instead of adding salt, soy sauce will give you that salty deep flavor you’re after. Remember to add some lime juice, because Thai peanut sauce just isn’t the same without a bite of citrus flavor, and lime is the perfect flavor balancer in Thai cuisine. You can also add some sriracha for spiciness and other seasonings you love like garlic powder. Then, shake your jar until emulsified and has become one uniform liquid (you can also just blend everything together in a blender). This sauce hits all the flavor fundamentals you need: sweet, salty, sour, and umami.

2. Avocado is the perfect salad ingredient

Salad with avocado

Avocados are an obvious choice and probably the easiest way to add a bit more substance to a salad. It doesn’t involve making a new kind of sauce or dressing — just cut up some avocado cubes or slices. While mild in flavor, avocado flesh, especially at the perfect ripeness, is like Mother Nature’s creamy gift to the world. They add a perfect amount of velvetiness to a salad without overpowering any other ingredient, and as a source of beneficial fats, it’s actually recommended that you eat more avocado.

Avocado is a versatile ingredient that you can even grill and add to a warm salad, like in this grilled avocado BLT salad recipe that involves adding avocado slices to your grill along with bacon and romaine lettuce halves. It can be eaten in both savory and sweet ways, so you can also go the sweet route with it and add some creaminess to a tropical fruit salad like in this watermelon and avocado fruit salad.

3. Give your cucumbers new life by making a mizeria salad

Polish cucumber salad in bowl

Cucumbers are the ultimate crisp salad ingredient and there are so many different ways that people around the world eat cucumber salads. One of our favorites is the Polish mizeria salad, a refreshing and creamy cucumber salad. It combines cold cucumber slices with sour cream and dill, a match made in heaven.

While the word “mizeria” means “misery,” the taste and experience of eating it couldn’t be further from that. The story goes that this dish started in the 1500s because an Italian princess living in Poland was missing home. The dish brings together ingredients from Italy and Poland to create one harmonious salad. As the princess became familiar with dill in Poland, she added it to cucumber, an ingredient far more familiar to her. It might have represented her sadness, but the result is a luscious and crisp salad that’s perfect as an appetizer or a side to any main dish at a barbecue or dinner party.

4. Go old-school with an original Waldorf salad dressing

Waldorf salad on plate

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Ever since the creation of this dish in a New York City hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, a Waldorf salad has been synonymous with elite diners or pretentious restaurants. In truth, it’s quite an easy salad to make, and the original Waldorf salad dressing was exceptionally simple. The salad was originally made up of just apple, celery, and mayonnaise. This means that all it was dressed with was mayo, salt, and pepper. It might not seem like enough to make a good salad dressing, but along with the apple and celery, (and now more commonly, walnuts) of the Waldorf salad, it adds a silky balance to all the crunch and sweetness.

While this simple dressing is often the starting point in many hotels and restaurants today, it still works as is, in all its simplicity. It can also be a starting point for other mayonnaise-based salad dressings. Add it to the intended Waldorf salad ingredients, in Coleslaws, or with other crunchy vegetable and fruit-based salads.

5. Add cream cheese

Bowl of cream cheese

Cream cheese is a go-to ingredient to shmear your bagel with, but it also works great in salad dressings. You can substitute mayonnaise with cream cheese, or mix the two if you’re looking to make a lighter mixture for an egg salad, chicken salad, or even a potato salad. It’s an extra creamy addition to this Polish egg salad which usually includes hard-boiled eggs, mayo, salt, pepper, and chives. By adding cream cheese, either instead of mayo or just in addition to it, you create a thicker texture and a richer taste. 

Let’s face it, cream cheese is so good on its own, it doesn’t need much more to make it taste great, but it also lends itself to so many flavor pairings (cream cheese and chives anyone?). Start with some softened cream cheese and add a few of your favorite herbs, some apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper, and you can also make a ridiculously luscious herby cream cheese dressing for any salad.

6. Use tahini for a nutty dressing

Tahini in bowl and seeds

Tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, is perhaps most popularly known for being added to hummus and drizzled into your shawarma or falafel wrap. What you may not know is that tahini sauce is one of the most common sauces in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine, and is often used on grilled fish and meats, flatbreads, and as a salad dressing.

If you’ve ever bought a jar of tahini and tasted it as is without dressing it up, you might have wondered why so many people love it, as it’s not very nice on its own. However, when you mix up the raw sesame paste with vinegar, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and some water to thin it up, you get a tangy, nutty, and milky sauce that you might want to pour over everything.

There are lots of ways to use tahini paste. One of our favorites is this tahini goddess dip which you make by whipping it up with a bunch of herbs, greek yogurt, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper, ready to serve with your next crudité platter.

7. Yogurt adds a creamy bite with a lighter feel

Cucumber salad in bowl

Everyone loves a greasy salad dressing but sometimes you can feel a bit heavy after eating one. If want to keep it on the lighter side, yogurt is the perfect ingredient to build a decadent and delicious dressing with. Depending on the type of yogurt you choose, you can opt for a thinner or thicker texture, and even choose the level of fat you want. Whether for your health or just a preference to not feel overly full, you can use it instead of mayo, in just about any salad dressing recipe that calls for mayo. 

Even in Caesar salad, this simple ingredient swap can make for a lighter Caesar dressing. It’s just as viscous as mayo and works well with any flavor additions you might add to your dressing. Since yogurt has quite a neutral flavor, you can actually push the boundaries more with flavorings than you can with mayo, whether it’s mustard, anchovies, garlic, sriracha, Parmesan, Worcestershire sauce, or whatever seasonings you like.

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8. Salatsauce is an underrated German dressing

Creamy cucumber salad

If you really want to ramp up the richness, look no further than salatsauce. This simple creamy German salad dressing is one you need to start using, and it isn’t your typical salad dressing.  Most dressings contain vinegar, oil, or mayo,  but this German recipe is as unrestrained as it gets, using a simple but potent ingredient; heavy cream. Adding just sugar, and lemon juice to it, it’s the perfect balance of sweet, buttery, and tangy. It goes well on every type of salad from green salads, to grain bowls, to a warm roasted root vegetable salad.

This dressing is incredibly adaptable and can be jazzed up with some herbs, dill pickles, or Tabasco sauce. If you don’t have heavy cream, you can also use whatever you have on hand that will add the same butteriness like sour cream, cream cheese, half and half. To make this using the traditional method, start by mixing the dressing ingredients in a bowl before adding your vegetables to it. This will ensure an even consistency. Then mix well to make sure everything is evenly coated.

9. Impress with this Korean potato salad technique

Boiled eggs and grated yolk

It’s hard to go wrong with potato salad because most people love it. A lot of families have a unique recipe for or secret ingredient that makes their potato salad special, and there are many different countries and cultures that make their version of potato salad. This Korean potato salad recipe uses some techniques that you may not have tried before.

The first major difference is that the potatoes are mashed up with a ricer, and served smooth rather than cut up. This creates a really silky salad that mimics mashed potato slightly but with chunky bits of vegetables in it. Another thing that multiplies the lusciousness in this salad is adding grated egg yolks on top. This incredible technique creates a fine yellow powder that coats the mouth and adds an extra layer of depth. We think this is a trick that could easily add more velvetiness to other salads you enjoy.

10. Get back to basics with a simple mustard vinaigrette

Viniagrette in glass jar

Creaminess can be achieved in many ways, and it doesn’t always have to involve cheese, cream, or mayonnaise. Mustard is an obvious salad dressing ingredient because it adds not only a distinct punch but also emulsifies into your vinaigrette, turning it into a milky yellow concoction that lathers your greens in the most luxurious way. In fact, in most restaurants in France, that’s exactly how your salad will be served: with a simple mustard vinaigrette.

To make one, you can use the jar-shaking method or blend together your favorite mustard with some vinegar and oil. You can use that as-is, or you can play around with different herbs, vinegar, garlic, spices, and oils. The trick to a really good mustard vinaigrette is to use a quality mustard that you personally love the taste of.

11. Crumble some blue cheese

Blue cheese on wooden table

Blue cheese is known to be a polarizing food and you either love it or hate it. Those who hate it think it smells like feet or are repulsed by its moldy appearance. That said, some people who try it with complimentary ingredients are pleasantly surprised by the funky umami taste and tend to go back for more. It’s a classic cheese to use in a salad and can be easily crumbled into one to ramp it up.

We love this creamy tangy apple slaw with blue cheese recipe that makes an elevated coleslaw of apple, cabbage, carrots, red onion, and blue cheese. The creamy Dijon mustard and mayo dressing ups the velvetiness and makes a perfect balance of sweet, rich, and fresh. Even if you think you hate blue cheese, it’s worth a taste in case it changes your mind. 

12. Buttermilk ranch dressing is a crowd-pleaser

Ranch dressing in glass jar

Ranch is a wildly popular American sauce that has become more associated with dipping your chips, spicy chicken, or pizza into. Going back to its roots, though, ranch has always been the perfect salad dressing. Even though it’s so easy to pick it up at the store, we think making it at home is as easy as can be and while people may have their own secret recipe, we love including buttermilk to take the lush texture to the next level.

Make our buttermilk ranch dressing by mixing up yogurt, buttermilk, and lemon juice, along with spices like onion powder, mustard powder, red chile flakes, and herbs like flat-leaf parsley and dill. Add it to your chopped salad and you, and your guests, won’t be able to get enough.

13. Spruce up your mayo by turning it into a Russian dressing

Russian dressing in bowl

We know that mayonnaise is a firm favorite when making salads, but making Russian dressing transforms it into something with a bit more tang and flavor. With ingredients you probably already have at home, make this versatile sauce that you can use on sandwiches, as a dip, in a crab salad, potato salad, and much more. It’s pretty close to a homemade Big Mac sauce so it definitely goes great on a burger too!

With the addition of ketchup, pickle relish, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, you effortlessly create a magnificent pink sauce that is as pretty as it is tasty. You can also customize it with the things you love. Adding hot sauce or horseradish is great for a spicier kick, or toss in a little beet juice to make it even brighter pink if you want a deeper color in your food. 

14. Let your herbs sing with green goddess dressing

Green goddess dressing in jar

Green goddess dressing is a way to give herbs the spotlight they deserve. Using everything from cilantro, parsley, basil, tarragon, and chervil, this vibrant sauce is like a buttery herb garden on your tongue. It’s also a great way to use up a lot of herbs before they begin wilting just a few days after you get them from the farmer’s market, and you can improvise according to the herbs you like and have available.

After blending olive oil with your herbs, this classic dressing gets its creaminess from making a simple mayo by whisking egg yolks while slowly adding in your herb oil. The mixture will emulsify into a herbaceous mayo and you can add a little water if needed to adjust the thickness. Drizzle on your salad or serve as a delicious dip alongside some vegetables.

15. Try this cold avocado, tahini, and soba noodles salad

Knife slicing soba noodles

Yuuji/Getty Images

Noodles are such a versatile ingredient and can be served in soups, stir-fries, sprill rolls, and even in salads. Other than rice noodles, soba noodles are great to use as a base for your salad. They are often eaten cold and served with a simple dipping sauce to highlight the flavor of the buckwheat, which soba noodles are made from. With their subtle but deep earthy taste, they go well with all kinds of fruit and vegetables, making them a good choice for a salad. 

Pairing them with avocado and tahini in this recipe makes for a really silky and nutty salad that’s both filling and rich in flavor. You can adjust the spice level to your liking by adding more or less sriracha to the tahini dressing. It’s sure to give your salad repertoire a sophisticated upgrade that will leave you wanting to make it again and again.

16. Choose sweet potatoes in your potato salad

Sweet potatoes on cutting board

Liudmila Chernetska/Getty Images

Everyone loves potatoes for all the right reasons, but we think sweet potatoes deserve just as much love. For everything a potato brings, a sweet potato can match it, plus more! They have more earthiness, sweetness, and color. This means sweet potato salad is just as satisfying as regular potato salad and their texture when cooked through makes for a silky mouthfeel. 

The best thing about sweet potatoes is all the exciting flavor pairings you can play around with because they have a more distinct taste. We love this grilled sweet potato salad recipe that tosses in ginger, turmeric, and basil leaves to make a fragrant dish that’s quite a departure from the traditional potato salad. The soft sweet potato flesh along with the mayo makes this an incredibly velvety salad that can rival any barbecue side dish.

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