Store-Bought Salad Dressings Are Great… For Everything Besides Salad

Food Lists salad dressing
Store-Bought Salad Dressings Are Great… For Everything Besides Salad

As a food writer, I often find myself with a fridge filled with some type of random ingredient I have to figure out how to use. As someone who prefers not to waste food if at all possible, this means getting creative with ingredients and products I don’t tend to buy for myself very often. This week, that ingredient was bottled salad dressing—more specifically, 14 bottles of store-bought salad dressing, ranging from creamy, spicy ranch to light, lemon-garlic vinaigrettes.

Here’s the problem, though: I never use store-bought salad dressings on leafy green salads. I find that, with rare exceptions, these dressings fall short of the flavor profiles I’m actually going for. Sometimes, there’s too much added sugar, and other times, the quality of the oil in the dressing leaves a lot to be desired. I’d rather take five minutes to make my own homemade dressing with some olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic and whatever else I have on hand than pay a premium for a less-fresh version of the same thing. Homemade dressings are easy, flavorful and totally customizable, which is ideal for transforming a pile of veggies into a delicious, coherent salad.

But don’t worry; I’m not throwing all those bottles away. There’s actually a lot you can do with bottled dressings—even if, like me, you don’t think they tend to taste particularly good on leafy green salads. Let’s take a closer look at just a few creative uses for that bottle of salad dressing sitting in your fridge.

1. Use It as a Marinade

Perhaps the easiest (and most flavorful) way to use salad dressing is as a marinade. Whether you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to make your own marinade from scratch or you simply love the flavor profile of a particular bottled salad dressing, dousing meat or vegetables in a rich dressing can revamp even the most basic recipes. Just add your vegetables, meat, tofu or tempeh to a bowl or bag, pour in some dressing, and coat everything evenly. Don’t be afraid to add other ingredients or spices to the mix. Then, just let everything sit for a while before you start cooking. Marinating has never been easier.

2. Create Flavorful Dips

Just because you don’t necessarily want to drizzle store-bought salad dressing over lettuce doesn’t mean the dressing in question won’t make for a solid dip. In some cases, salad dressings are already dippable in their original forms. Ranch, for example, is perhaps more celebrated as a dip than it is as a salad dressing. However, you can also thicken lighter, more vinaigrette-style dressings by adding cornstarch, mayonnaise or mustard to the mix.

3. Add to Sandwiches

Oil and vinegar is an elite sandwich condiment. So why shouldn’t salad dressings, many of which are based on oil and vinegar, be? Thicker dressings make for good spreads in lieu of (or in addition to) mayonnaise and mustard. On the other hand, lighter dressings are great for drizzling over toppings. A good Italian dressing, for example, pairs beautifully with an Italian sub. 

4. Make Flavorful Veggie Burgers

Frozen veggie burgers aren’t always the best, but luckily, it’s relatively easy to make your own fresh veggie burgers at home. One great way to add flavor to a veggie burger? Salad dressing! An oil-based dressing will help bind your burger together so it doesn’t fall apart (although you probably won’t want to rely on dressing alone as a binder), and it can also add a ton of flavor to the finished product.

5. Add It to Pizza

Okay, sure, it may not be for everyone, but drizzling some salad dressing on a slice of pizza is an upgrade some of us can appreciate. Some prefer ranch (and spicy ranch is a particularly good option), although vinaigrettes can also work well here as long as the flavors don’t clash with the pizza toppings too much.

6. Use for Less-Conventional Salads

Okay, I know I said that I don’t like store-bought dressings for salads, but we’re not talking about leafy green salads here. Instead, consider using bottled dressings for bean, potato and pasta salads instead. Not only does it make these dishes come together in a pinch, but it’s also a great way to boost the flavor profile of the greens-less salad you’re making. Ranch dressing can be particularly delicious in a potato salad, while vinaigrettes offer a light, refreshing touch to pasta and bean salads.

7. Add Dressing to Your Baking Projects… Yes, Seriously

This may sound wild, but yes, you can use salad dressings in baked goods. Of course, dressings work well in savory recipes, like these savory buttermilk ranch scones from Brianna’s Salad Dressings, but you can even make sweet treats, like a literal chocolate cake, with some types of dressings. Sure, it may be unconventional, but it may just be worth a try.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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