Summer salads: Five fantastic dressings to bring your dish to the next level

With just a handful of ingredients you can transform a bowl of leaves into a feast

If you naturally gravitate towards the salad bowl, well done you. I don’t share your enthusiasm for a tangle of green leaves, however wholesome, but if there is an interesting dressing on the side, it usually gets me interested.

The barbecues are lined up for some sunny weather action this weekend and the burgers, steaks and fish are at the ready. But what about the salads? What we need is a few vinaigrette and dressing ideas to bring them to life and make them more than just a plate-filler.

A basic vinaigrette made with an oil (olive or rapeseed), an acid (vinegar or citrus) and some seasoning (salt, pepper, sugar or honey), is a good thing, but sometimes something a bit more adventurous is called for. I’ve been making a dressing with equal parts tahini, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar and olive oil, whisked together with a little seas salt, and it is delicious, especially on more robust leaves such as Little Gem and Iceberg lettuces and spinach leaves.

Food writer and broadcaster Caroline Hennessy takes inspiration from a literary source for her family’s favourite all-rounder summer salad dressing. “Vinaigrette has never had more of an impact than in Nora Ephron’s heartbreaking, hilarious Heartburn. Reading that book recently, I had to go straight into the kitchen to make this: ‘Mix 2 tablespoons Grey Poupon mustard with 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar. Then, whisking constantly with a fork, slowly add 6 tablespoons olive oil, until the vinaigrette is thick and creamy’.”


“It is the kind of simple recipe [2:2:6] that always tastes great,” Hennessy says. “This is the Little Black Dress of dressings, with the potential to be dressed up or used for everyday. Use any mustard, bring Irish cider vinegar to the party and add extras like garlic, shallot, lemon juice, herbs and other seasonings. I use it with green leaves and also tossed with new, still warm potatoes, in a crunchy fresh cauliflower salad (with lemon and sumac) or folded through thinly sliced red and white cabbage for slaw. Make lots, decant it into the now-empty mustard jar and keep it in the fridge for those summery salad emergencies.”

Arun Kapil of the Green Saffron spice company in Co Cork has some brilliant ideas to bring a little spice to summer salads. His spiced summer dressing combines tangy lemon, garam masala, yoghurt and mustard. “Dark perfumed spices, tangy, light summer dressing; this is the perfect accompaniment to any sunny barbecue,” he says. For this to be at its best, the garam masala should be made with freshly roasted spices. Kapil’s is made with spices he and his family source in India, then roast and blend in Cork.

He has also shared (below) a fruity, fresh nectarine, chickpea and feta salad that he serves with what he calls his sunshine vinaigrette. “The combination of fresh, invigorating garden mint, sweet juicy nectarines, soft-bite nutty chickpeas and gently salty feta cheese is truly one to savour,” he says.

Anthony Printer, executive at Cronin’s Sheebeen in Westport, suggests making a dressing of black treacle, sherry vinegar and rapeseed oil as an alternative to balsamic with tomatoes and Toonsbridge mozzarella. Galway chef JP McMahon makes his favourite salad dressing with dillisk and Velvet Cloud sheep’s yoghurt. Shane Murphy of Neighbourhood Wine has what he calls a “holy trinity” of salad dressing ingredients - Builín Blasta smoked onion mayo, Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms wild garlic vinegar, and Maille wholegrain Dijon mustard. All great ways to bring a dash of excitement to a summer salad.

Five fabulous summer salad dressings

Arun Kapil’s spiced summer dressingA citrussy, creamy pick-me-up for leaves and shaved vegetables. With the bonus of a quick salted lemon to use in another dressing.

Arun Kapil’s nectarines, chickpeas and feta salad with sunshine dressingThe sunshine in the dressing comes from a mixture of orange juice and zest, with sunny spices and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Grainne O’Keefe’s Kale, smoked trout and crispy hen’s egg salad with sweet mustard dressingA traditional honey mustard dressing that is a crowd pleaser and versatile to use with almost any salad.

Grainne O’Keefe’s Asian-style marinated crispy tofu salad with ginger, garlic and soy dressingThe dressing is made in the pan for this vegetarian main course that you can serve hot or cold.

Paul Flynn’s hot potato salad with bacon and ranch dressingButtermilk ranch dressing, with fresh herbs and garlic, that you can drizzle over any leaves for a bit of oomph. Especially nice on a bowl of bib lettuce or used as a dip for crudites.