In salad season, sometimes an eater can overload on vinaigrettes. In such moments, I remember that oil and vinegar aren’t the only way to dress a pile of greens. Yogurt is at least a good base for dressing as oil and vinegar, and here’s why: if you start with full-fat, or at least low-fat, yogurt, then your dressing already contains the rich feel of oil and the necessary tang of acid, but you’ve only used one ingredient.
This knowledge turns out to be critical not only when you need a break from balsamic, but also when you find your pantry kind of bare or you’re hoping to whip up a salad in a friend’s kitchen and her oils and vinegars just don’t meet your standards. (Mayo is also a possibility, but I find yogurt to be both more complex and lighter.)
Here’s how to whip up a batch.
Start with yogurt. You want plain yogurt for sure. I prefer a full-fat yogurt, for mouthfeel and taste (your dressing ends up resembling something Caesar-y if you have enough fat). But of course, use what you have and you like. Lower-fat yogurts will be more tangy, so keep that in mind as you choose the rest of your ingredients.
Add some liquid. This will sound crazy, but water is a very viable ingredient for thinning your yogurt to the consistency where it will dress your salad. But other options are oil — it really does not need to be a particularly perfect oil — or lemon juice, or any kind of acid you can pull from your fridge, like pickle juice!
Bring in umami. Lest your yogurt dressing fall flat, ramp it up with something ultra tasty. A spoonful of mustard works. My favorite way to go, though, is a healthy grate of Parm.
Don’t skimp on salt. A yogurt dressing could be as minimalist as yogurt, water, and salt. Salt is what brings out the complexity of the yogurt, so add pinches until the flavor pops.
Paint the canvas. Good as it tastes unadulterated, yogurt dressing is a blank canvas, which you can embellish however you’d like. Garlic is good (you’ll have garlic breath after, but whatever). Fresh minced herbs are good; dry work too. Try tons of freshly grated black pepper, and perhaps a pinch of ground cumin if it goes with your salad’s flavors. If you’re using lemon, maybe some lemon zest would be nice. Chilies (dried or minced fresh) bring in the spice.
A recipe for my current favorite way to make yogurt dressing is below, if you want a place to start. And here are a couple awesome salads on which to deploy the yogurt dressing: