Six Easy Vinaigrettes/Dressings Made With Leftover Things
Lemons. Honey. Mustard. Buttermilk. Tahini. Pickle Juice.
What do all these things have in common (besides being delicious)? Turns out if you have just a bit of any of them hanging around - whether they've been hanging out in the fridge for ages or you have just a few last stubborn teaspoons clinging to the inside of the jar - then you can make a quick and tasty dressing for a leafy salad, Grain Bowl, pasta salad, or whatever you are making that needs a hit of flavor.
You'll never need to buy a salad dressing again. (Seriously, I haven't bought salad dressing in about a decade).
Here's the basic idea:
You want to make a vinaigrette base that is roughly 3 parts extra-virgin olive oil and 1 part acid like vinegar or lemon juice. If you want a zippier, more acidic dressing, go to 2 parts oil and 1 part acid, or somewhere in between. My go-to acid is a simple unseasoned rice vinegar, but you could use red or white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. or something fancier like sherry or champagne vinegar. Or balsamic for more pronounced flavor, or whatever you have around (plain white vinegar is super aggressive and not ideal here, but if it's all you have you just need to balance it with more sweetness). You can measure it out if you like, but I just get a glass jar (I stash a few in the cupboard when I finish a jar of jam or pickles) and eyeball the layers as I pour the two together. Then close the lid and shake to emulsify (aka combine the two into one stable dressing) or whisk in a bowl to combine if you don't have a jar. Add kosher salt to taste, plus pepper if you like, and that's your basic vinaigrette.
Here's how to incorporate the leftover things:
So. The lemon is easy. Whenever I've used half a lemon for drink garnishes or brightening a sauce, I use the other half and make a very basic vinaigrette and stash it in the fridge. The next time I make salad, I take it out and let it warm up (the olive oil will have solidified in the fridge) while I make the rest of the salad. Add the zest too! Optional additions include minced fresh herbs, garlic or shallot.
Honey and Mustard
Here's where we get into slightly more interesting dressings. Whenever I'm at the end of a honey or mustard jar, I make the above basic vinaigrette in the jar to use up the last bits clinging to the side of the jar. You can also just add a teaspoon or so of each (or both!) to the basic dressing. They balance each other nicely, and a minced shallot is also an excellent companion. Maple syrup also works if you like your dressings on the sweet side.
Literally every time I buy buttermilk (for pancakes or fried chicken or whatever reason) I end up with extra buttermilk that just ends up sitting around. Luckily we put a Yogurt Dressing in our first cookbook that uses buttermilk, and now I make extra salad dressing every time I have a bit of buttermilk in the fridge. The ratio is roughly 2 parts plain whole yogurt or sour cream to 1 part buttermilk, plus a splash of lemon juice and some olive oil if you want. Add a pinch of kosher salt and adjust the seasoning, creaminess, and acidity to taste. It should be rich, tangy and pourable, but not too thin. This is also a nice place to use up extra finely chopped herbs, like chives, basil, or mint.
If you've bought tahini to make hummus from scratch, and then ended up with a jar of tahini sitting in your cupboard for an embarrassingly long time...well, welcome to the club. Thankfully I have recently started making a dent in the tahini jar thanks to a) my favorite pantry sauce for noodles, salads, veggies, okay fine, everything, and b) adding tahini to a basic vinaigrette. You can mix a spoonful in to the lemon one on top, or into the buttermilk one above. If you want it thicker and more ranch-like, consider adding a scoop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.
For a great soy-tahini stir-fry sauce, mix tahini (or peanut butter) with a splash of soy sauce, sesame oil, neutral vinegar like rice vinegar and a splash of water (more info here). Adjust amounts to your thickness and seasoning preferences and drizzle on all sorts of cooked veggies.
There's another use for pickle brine besides picklebacks! (Thank goodness.) Use any kind of pickle juice as the acidic component in your basic vinaigrette, then add other flavorings like mustard or herbs to taste. Since the brine may or may not include water, or another liquid besides vinegar, I like to add something creamy to thicken the dressing up a bit - a spoonful of mayo or yogurt or sour cream does the trick. Or add a lot of creaminess and make it more of a dip - it's like an instant tartar sauce for dipping all your veggies and fried things.
I hope this helps you use up all your little bits in jars, and never throw out half a lemon that you've forgotten about. And also I hope it frees you from the (expensive) siren call of premade dressings with lots of additives...you can do it!