How to Make Oriental Dressing
Cooks who plunder the Oriental pantry to make a dressing will find clean, zesty ingredients to perk up the standard combination of acid and oil.
Drizzled over salads or used as a dipping sauce, Oriental dressing can be hot and spicy or rich and salty. Compared to Western salad dressings, a notable omission is the use of dairy products, which are used sparingly in Oriental cuisine.
Most Oriental dressings base themselves around a few common ingredients, all of which are prevalent throughout Asian cookery. For the acid, rice vinegar or fresh lime juice brings plenty of bite, while sesame oil has a pleasant toasted smokiness that is preferable to fruitier olive oils.
Soy sauce provides the saltiness, as well as a sweet flourish, while chili sauce is essential for heat. Fish sauce might be too strong for many palates, but is worth including for dressing seafood. The final twist comes from ginger, garlic and cilantro, the three herbs that provide the aromatic backbone to cuisine across Asia.
Oriental dressing differs little from conventional salad dressing in using a 3-to-1 ratio of oil to acid. For a simple Chinese dressing, whisk together soy sauce, lemon juice, sugar, rice vinegar and sesame oil until a light emulsion forms, and sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.
Some cooks add lemon and orange juice to the lime juice, adding grated zest for extra aroma. The dressing can be poured over fine shredded Chinese vegetables and salad leaves or used as a dipping sauce for egg rolls and other appetizers.
In Malay and Indonesian cuisine, spicier touches predominate, typically thanks to sambal oelek, a thick, salty paste made from ground chili peppers bolstered with chopped onion, lemon grass and garlic. While sambal oelek by itself is more of a dipping sauce, it can be upgraded to a dressing by whisking together with lemon, lime and orange juice along with enough oil to thin the consistency.
Similar to sambal is Thai Sriracha sauce, sold in the U.S. solely by Huy Fong Foods, which leans more heavily on garlic flavors in taste, but still packs an invigorating heat. Add fish sauce to make a dressing similar to nuoc cham, one of the signature dressings in Vietnamese cuisine.
Not surprisingly, Japanese dressings favor distinct, clear flavors to match the spirit of much of the national cuisine. Make a simple carrot-ginger dressing with rice vinegar, soy sauce and a touch of sugar, mixed with grated ginger, carrot and onion. In this case, the ginger provides the heat and the absence of oil leaves the palate clean.
BBC Good Food recommends adding garlic, scallions and chopped red chili to the mix, this time with sesame oil balanced with mirin, a rice wine similar to sake but sweeter.