How To Elevate Your Meal: Dressings, Sauces, and Marinades

Health & Longevity

How To Elevate Your Meal: Dressings, Sauces, and Marinades

Oct 25, 2022

A good dressing, sauce, or marinade can make anything delicious! This holds especially true when eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. Adding a tasty dressing or sauce elevates flavor and can turn your dish from average to amazing. Unfortunately, conventional dressings, sauces, and marinades tend to have large amounts of oils and refined sugar. As someone that has eliminated oil from my diet, finding flavorful, oil-free, vegan dressings, sauces, and marinades can be challenging. Fortunately, it is easy to make homemade, whole-food versions! 


There are two types of dressings: creamy dressings and vinaigrettes. Creamy dressings are blended until smooth, and vinaigrettes are generally shaken or whisked. To make them, I follow these simple formulas: 

Creamy Dressing Formula: whole-food fat + acid + spices + salt (optional) +

natural sweeteners (optional)  

Vinaigrette Formula: acids + spices + salt (optional) + natural sweeteners (optional)  

For building both creamy dressings and vinaigrettes, follow these 5 easy steps: 

  1. The first step is to choose your acid – a vinegar variety or a type of citrus. Types of vinegar that can be used include red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, and several others. Types of citruses include lemons, limes, and oranges. The great part about this step is that vinegar and citrus are often ingredients you already have on hand!
  1. The next step is to choose aromatics, spices, and herbs. This can include aromatics such as garlic or shallots, spices such as black pepper or cumin, or herbs such as cilantro or mint. This step is my favorite because it allows for so much creativity. There are so many potential delicious combinations of varying aromatics, spices, and herbs, and it’s fun to try them out and find your favorite. 
  1. The next step is to choose your salt. This step is optional and can include sea salt, pickles, olives, miso, or capers. I typically save this step for the end, taste my dressing, and determine if it needs a salty component. I rarely add salt, but have found that adding it at the end versus the beginning helps reduce sodium levels in my cooking. 
  1. If opting for a sweeter dressing, your next step will be to choose your natural sweetener. This includes fruit or fruit pastes such as strawberries, figs, or blueberries. This step is optional and is only included if you are looking for a sweeter dressing. If you are making a vinaigrette dressing, it is now time to shake or whisk your ingredients and you will have a delicious vinaigrette dressing ready for any dish!  
  1. If you are making a creamy dressing, there is one more step – choosing your whole-food fat source. Whole-food fat options include avocado, nuts, seeds, and nut and seed butters. After this addition, blend your ingredients until smooth and your creamy dressing is complete!  

In five, simple steps you can have a delicious, whole-food dressing. My personal favorite is Cashew Ranch Dressing!  

Sauces and Marinades

The terms dressings, sauces, and marinades are often used interchangeably. Although both dressings and sauces are served with food to add flavor and texture to the dish, dressings are uncooked and sauces are cooked. On the other hand, marinades are generally used prior to cooking to allow the flavor to be absorbed during the cooking process.  

Oftentimes, sauce and marinade recipes can be used for both purposes. Because of this, I typically make a large batch and save it in the fridge for the week to be used as both a marinade and a sauce. My favorite way to use sauce is by adding it to my build-your-own wellness bowls that I have for lunch or dinner multiple times a week. It is such a great way to add immense flavor to the dish, while still ensuring it’s nutritious. One of my favorites is a homemade Asian BBQ Sauce

I also really enjoy making oil-free pasta sauces. Who doesn’t love pasta? I often make oil-free pesto, red, and cream sauces for my pasta dishes. Pesto sauces are great because there are so many delicious variations. Traditionally, pesto is made with basil and pine nuts, but it can also be made with other herbs and nuts including cilantro, parsley, walnuts, cashews, and many more. I love the opportunity to play with different ingredients to create new flavors. I also enjoy oil-free red sauce and cream sauces. My favorite pasta sauce is a basic Cashew Cream Sauce – it’s so simple and delicious! Cashews are a great addition to any sauce where you want to add a creamy, smooth texture. 

Your Turn

Not only are dressings, sauces, and marinades a great way to enhance the flavor of any dish, but there are so many possible variations in ingredients that can be customized based on your preferences. Creating flavorful, unique dressings, sauces, and marinades to elevate my dishes is one of my favorite parts of cooking. I hope it can become one of yours too!

For simple, nutritious, and delicious whole-food, plant-based recipes, check out my cookbook!