Poppy Seed Dressing

Growing up, my family often celebrated special occasions at Chicagoland supper clubs. These were restaurants that had red leather (vinyl?) booths and white table cloths. They seemed a lot fancier than they were. On holidays they were filled with middle-class families dressed up (to whatever degree people still dressed up) and on their best behavior. I loved having dinner at these places. The menu consisted of classics like prime rib or chicken piccata (wedding food) and always came with your choice of soup or salad and potato (go for the double-baked) along with a wonderful basket of dinner rolls. Dessert was always cheesecake or rainbow sherbet. I still love restaurants like these, though they seem more difficult to find nowadays.

This poppy seed salad dressing reminded me of those restaurants, where it would probably be served on a salad of iceberg lettuce and tomato wedges. I made a simple salad of butter lettuce and thinly sliced radishes. The dressing, in its original form, is very sweet. I reduced the sugar and increased the vinegar ratio, and it is still pretty sweet. We found it thoroughly enjoyable, and those of you who are familiar with dressings like this will be transported. The recipe below¬† makes a lot of dressing. If you’re uncertain, feel free to make half of a recipe. And make sure you add something bitter or peppery, like the radishes, to compliment the sweetness of the salad dressing.

It feel right for right now. Spring.

Poppy Seed Dressing (adapted from Saveur)

  • 2 tbsp. poppy seeds
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. dry mustard powder
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely grated, juice reserved
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the poppy seeds and cook, swirling pan constantly, until they are lightly toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, vinegar, mustard powder, salt, pepper, and onion with juice, and cook until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to simmer. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the vinegar mixture to a blender. Add both oils, and blend until smooth; chill. The dressing may separate after sitting, you can shake it to re-emulsify.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.Will keep in the fridge for a few days.

35 comments to “Poppy Seed Dressing”

  1. I’ve got some radishes in the fridge waiting to be used. Looks like an interesting dressing. I know poppy seeds are the whole point, but if I can’t find them, what else do you suggest?

  2. Hi Ileana- they are the whole point, so I would just skip this and use another dressing. Radishes are great tossed with a simple vinaigrette…

  3. Deanna P. says:

    April 4th, 2012 at 9:21 am

    I have a poppy seed dressing similar to yours that I love to use in spring. It usually tops baby spinach with the addition of either sliced strawberries, clementine sections, or sliced apples, then some toasted almonds and red onion slivers. In fact it is on my Easter menu:) Going to try your recipe!

  4. I go nuts for a good poppy seed dressing. It could be my gigantic sweet tooth but it tastes so good paired with bitter ingredients like radishes or maybe a little arugula.

  5. That sounds great, Deanna! Seems like a natural for spring menus.

  6. I’m thinking this would be good on a noodle salad, with the appropriate bitter/peppery vegetable garnishes. Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. Oh yum – I’m thinking young arugula/spring radishes/and sprinkles of sheep feta and toasted walnuts. Thank you…

  8. The West Egg Cafe serves a sweet poppyseed dressing on its salads and my husband is wile for it. I wonder if this is similar!

  9. I’m so excited somebody else uses this dressing! My recipe includes lemon, but it is a hit on a salad with dark greens, grapefruit, walnuts, craisins, and a crumbly white cheese. I brought a salad like this to a Christmas party last year and people actually asked me to make them jars of the dressing for Christmas. Try it, you will LOVE it!

  10. That looks like the perfect dressing for a spring salad. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Mmm yum. Might have to try this soon! Seems really spring-y :)

  12. Yum! This sounds wonderful and it reminds me very much of a dressing my mom used to pour over finely shredded cabbage and refrigerate overnight. She was semi-famous for it. ( :

  13. Love this and think it would work well as a coleslaw dressing or in a carrot salad too. Looks and I bet tastes great too!x

  14. Homemade poppyseed dressing–hooray! I remember once having an excellent romaine salad with strawberries, shredded roasted chicken, and poppyseed dressing. I bet it would be much better with homemade dressing, though!

  15. I’m going to use this dressing on dandelion salad with bacon and sliced hard boiled eggs. :-)

  16. I’m totally adding this to my salad dressing recipe collection on the inside of my cupboard door. Thanks!

  17. This dressing looks great. Poppy seed dressings are always a favorite, but the store-bought kinds are always overly sweat, sticky, and heavy.

    Have you tried substituting a little bit of Dijon mustard for the dry mustard? That would help stabilize the emulsification and prevent the separation.

  18. Hey Jon, Yep, you could do that. I don’t mind shaking the dressing before using it, but it is a good suggestion.

  19. Jan Canyon says:

    April 5th, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Now you have gone and done it….reminded me of one of my favorite spring dressings. I also love the wilted lettuce salads of spring with bacon. Wonder what poppy seed dressing on a salad with bacon would taste like? Hmmmm….it IS lunch time here.

  20. I should have realized that this started out with Helen Corbitt’s recipe. :-)

  21. Delicious! Love poppy seeds, and love home-made salad dressing! Thanks for sharing!

  22. My favorite local bakery makes an incredible spinach salad with lemon poppyseed dressing. Yours looks fabulous! I can’t wait to try making my own. Also, again, congratulations for your Saveur nomination! You are marvelous company.

  23. i love you. i mean this recipe okay maybe both. THANKS!

  24. I lovvvve poppyseed dressing and I love that this one isn’t loaded with sugar (like so many store-bought dressings). This is definitely Spring – can’t wait to give it a go!

  25. My poppy seeds must have exploded as my dressing looks like a much higher concentration of poppy seeds. I used to buy Carolina Swamp Stuff’s Blue Tick Dressing which was a raspberry poppy seed vinaigrette. I think Harry & David bought the company about three years ago and promptly closed them down. I’m going to use this recipe and see if I can come close to the vinaigrette I remember.

  26. Tim, if you’re ever in the mood to return to such a supper club, you might want to try the Gale Street Inn on North Milwaukee. Whenever I catch a show at The Gift Theatre, I park there for free and have a memory-lane dinner. The side dishes Crack. Me. Up.

    Note: At risk of having just sounded like a commercial for these two enterprises, I will disclose that I have colleagues who have written or who have performed in shows produced at The Gift. As for Gale Street, the only connection is through my stomach.

  27. Oh, David, I have been to the Gale Street Inn. It is great!

  28. I remember those days and restaurants as though it was yesterday. We must have grown up around the same time. I don’t remember the poppy seed dressing as much as I do Russian or Thousand Island. I wasn’t introduced to Poppy Seed dressing until I was older. Then again maybe we aren’t the same age. I must be older.

  29. I love reading a recipe and knowing exactly what it’s going to taste like when I make it. And I’m smiling as I think about that crunchy, sweet mouthful of salad.


  30. I wish I had a bowl of lettuce with this dressing on it right now! I wonder if I could use agave nectar instead of sugar?

  31. Stupid question, but when recipes like this call for olive oil, do they mean EVO or regular olive oil?

  32. Hey Bradford, I use EVO for everything. In a recipe like this, you could get away with the other…but it won’t add as much good flavor.

  33. Ok, I’m late to the game commenting on this… but have you been to the Golden Steer in Forest Park? Based on this post, I think you’d like it! Going to make this dressing for a spinach salad his weekend. Thanks!

  34. Tried this recipe tonight and it was inedible, heating toughened the poppyseeds and all of that mustard combined with so little sugar just made it so bitter, it had a terrible texture and flavour. Nearly cried for all the wasted ingredients.

  35. Hi Jessie- I am sorry to hear that this recipe almost made you cry. I am guessing something was wrong with your ingredients because none of this should have been bitter, and 1/4 cup of sugar is actually a massive amount of sugar for a salad dressing. Also, I have never had heat toughen poppy seeds, I don’t think that is a thing. Maybe they were over-cooked?

What do you think?