I love versatile recipes that give you a lot of flavor for very little effort. Enter these three easy dressings/sauces/dips (call them whatever you want), which require nothing more than throwing a handful of not-too-out-there ingredients into a blender or food processor and buzzing them until they're smooth. They all keep well for up to a week in a jar in the fridge, and making one of them (or all three, go for it!) means you will have a great, super-flavorful mixture on hand to throw on salads, dip vegetables into, or spoon on top of things like store-bought rotisserie chicken or last night's leftovers to jazz them up a bit. This is very true to how I cook at home since my wife and I try to eat really healthy food, and having a good dressing on hand makes everything a little more exciting. Oh, and these all happen to be completely vegan, which is great if that means something to you!
Creamy Caper Dressing (i.e., Vegan Caesar)
The most requested recipe I've ever created is my classic Caesar-salad dressing, which I couldn't resist calling "Julia's Caesar." The non-vegan version is in my new cookbook,Small Victories, but I've always loved this vegan version just as much and thought it deserved its own moment in the limelight. Here it is! It's great served on romaine with croutons (even better if that salad is served on a red-checked tablecloth). I also love dipping potato chips in this. I know that is the opposite of what you're supposed to use salad dressing for ... but rules are for breaking, no?
Makes a generous cup/240 milliliters
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
½ cup/120 milliliters extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse salt
A few grinds of black pepper
Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor, and purée until smooth and well combined — alternatively, you can finely chop the capers and just whisk everything together. Will keep in a jar in the fridge for up to a week (stir before serving).
I feel like dipping one vegetable into another is like getting healthy extra credit. Enter this vegetable-based dip, a mash-up of carrot-ginger dressing and miso dressing and a sliced cucumber's best friend. It's also great to serve on grilled salmon or grilled shrimp. Or thin it out with a little extra rice vinegar, and use it as a salad dressing.
Makes a generous cup/240 milliliters
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1 cup/150 grams)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons miso paste (any kind will do)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor, and purée until smooth and well combined. Will keep in a jar in the fridge for up to a week (stir before serving).
Spicy (or Not) Peanut Sauce
This peanut sauce makes everything it touches taste like spicy sesame noodles, which, to me, is a great thing. You could leave out the sriracha if you don't like spicy things, or use less — or use even more if you really like to sweat. For a great snack, I love filling the hollow of an avocado half (the depression left after you take the pit out) with this sauce and then eating the whole thing with a spoon. It works really well on cooked noodles, hot or cold; try buckwheat soba, thick udon noodles, "zoodles" made with zucchini, or even just good old spaghetti. It's also delicious on roasted vegetables, especially broccoli, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, squash, and carrots. Honestly, this would be good on a flip-flop.
Makes 1¾ cups/420 milliliters
½ cup/150 grams smooth peanut butter (see note)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (or fresh lemon or lime juice)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce), optional
1 tablespoon honey (or agave nectar)
1 teaspoon roasted-sesame oil
½ cup/120 milliliters water
Place all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and purée until smooth and well combined. Will keep in a jar in the fridge for up to a week (stir before serving).
Note: For the peanut butter, I prefer using one that's made just of peanuts, but use whatever you already have. If your peanut butter has sugar in it, leave out the honey (or agave nectar). If it already has salt in it, start with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and taste before adding the second (you might not need it).
Julia Turshen is the author of Small Victories. She lives in upstate New York with her wife, dogs, and cat.