Creamy Sesame Dressing (ごまドレッシング)
Rich, tangy, and loaded with nutty sesame flavor, this Creamy Sesame Dressing has become a modern classic at Japanese restaurants worldwide. Here in Japan, sesame dressing is known as goma dressing (ごまドレッシング), and you’ll find it on the table at most homes and many casual eateries.
It comes together in minutes and will keep for weeks in the fridge, so I hope you’ll give this easy sesame dressing a try the next time you crave a Japanese salad.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Squeezing grated ginger to get ginger juice is an excellent way to add ginger flavor to the dressing without adding the fibrous pulp.
- Using a combination of sesame paste and toasted sesame oil is a quick way to add loads of sesame flavor to the dressing without grinding your own sesame seeds.
- The balance of creamy ingredients like mayonnaise and sesame paste with tangy rice vinegar keeps the richness in check while making a salad dressing that will coat even slippery vegetables like snap peas and cherry tomatoes.
Ingredients for Creamy Sesame Dressing
- Sesame paste – I used Japanese neri-goma. It’s similar to Middle Eastern tahini, but tahini is made by grinding just the inner kernel of the seed, while neri-goma is made by grinding the whole sesame seed, including the husk. Either one will work in this Japanese salad dressing, but neri-goma has a thicker consistency and more robust flavor.
- Mayonnaise – Mayonnaise is what makes sesame dressing thick and creamy. If you can find it, I highly recommend using a Japanese-style mayonnaise such as Kewpie because it has a taste that’s tangier and umami-rich than its Western counterparts. Kewpie also makes an egg-free version if you want to make this vegan. If you can’t find Japanese mayonnaise, you can use the mayonnaise you have available, but I would recommend adding an extra tablespoon of vinegar and an extra teaspoon of maple syrup.
- Vinegar – Vinegar provides a balancing tartness that keeps the dressing from getting too rich. Rice vinegar is the best choice here as it has a fairly neutral flavor and mellow tartness, but if you can’t find it, other mild vinegar, like apple cider vinegar, will work.
- Soy sauce – The soy sauce adds umami and salt to the dressing. I recommend using a regular Japanese soy sauce such as Kikkoman.
- Maple syrup – A little maple syrup helps round out the tartness of the vinegar while adding a nice earthy flavor that compliments the nutty sesame. You can also use a different sweetener like sugar or honey, but keep in mind that each sweetener has a different level of sweetness, so you may need to adjust the amount you add.
- Toasted sesame oil – Toasted sesame oil has a marvelous nutty aroma that gives this salad dressing more sesame flavor than using sesame paste alone.
- Ginger juice – Making ginger juice is as simple as grating fresh ginger and squeezing it to remove the fibrous pulp. I’ve added a relatively small amount in this recipe to focus on the sesame, but if you like a more ginger-forward sesame dressing, you can add more ginger juice.
- Salt – Seasoning this salad dressing with soy sauce alone would make the color dark brown. To keep it tan in color, it’s best to use only a small amount of soy sauce and augment the seasoning with salt.
How to Make Sesame Dressing
The first thing you’ll want to do is make some ginger juice by grating some fresh ginger on a rasp or Microplane. Then you can gather up the pulp and squeeze it with your fingers to extract the juice.
Then you just need to add the ginger juice to a bowl along with the sesame paste, mayonnaise, rice vinegar, soy sauce, maple syrup, toasted sesame oil, and salt, and whisk the ingredients together until they form a smooth and creamy dressing. You can also just add all of the ingredients to a bottle with a lid and shake the dressing together.
Stored in the fridge, this sesame salad dressing will last for a few weeks. It’s pretty thick, so I recommend keeping it in a plastic squeeze bottle to make it easy to dispense, but a glass jar will also work.
How to Make a Japanese Salad
There are many different Japanese salads, but the side salads served alongside modern Japanese breakfasts and teishoku lunches tend to have a few things in common.
The lettuce used is usually iceberg lettuce. This is because it tends to have the most crispy texture without the bitter taste of some other lettuce varieties. To get it extra crisp, the lettuce is usually chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces and soaked in cold water. Then it’s drained and dried before being used as the base of the salad.
Another defining trait of Japanese salads is the variety of toppings. It’s not uncommon to top the leafy greens with five or six other vegetables, and the key is to include a variety of textures, tastes, and shapes. This makes it visually appealing while ensuring you’re eating a good variety of nutrients. I’ve used tomato wedges, sliced cucumbers, julienned carrots, broccoli sprouts, and a whole radish for the salad shown in these pictures.
Once your Japanese salad is assembled, you can finish it off with a drizzle of this Creamy Sesame Dressing.
Other Japanese Salad Recipes
In Japan, there are several similar sauces made with sesame. The most traditional is a sauce used for boiled vegetables in a dish called Goma-ae made from ground sesame seeds, dashi, soy sauce, and sugar. The sauce used for dipping shabu shabu is called Goma-dare. It’s similar to the sauce for Goma-ae, but it includes sesame paste which makes it more creamy. Finally, Goma Dressing (literally “sesame dressing”) adds mayonnaise and uses vinegar in place of the dashi to make for a thick creamy dressing that’s perfect for Japanese Salads.
When voiced in Japanese, Goma Dressing becomes a 7-syllable word and is pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
go like ghost
ma like mall
do like dome
re like the “re” sound does not exist in the English language, and the best way to make it is to say the word “rain” with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
shi like sheet
n like night
gu like good
As long as you use plant-based mayonnaise, this sesame dressing recipe is vegan friendly.
The easiest way to use this Asian Sesame Dressing is to drizzle it on your favorite salad. Japanese salads typically include crisp iceberg lettuce and a rainbow of vegetables, such as shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, corn, etc. The key is to include a wide variety of colors, textures, and shapes. This dressing is also good drizzled on cooked vegetables, poured over soft tofu, or used as a dipping sauce for cold noodles or shabu shabu.
- 110 grams Japanese mayonnaise (~1/2 US cup)
- 80 grams sesame paste (~1/3 US cup)
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon ginger juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Prepare ginger juice by grating fresh ginger and then squeezing the juice out of the pulp.
- Whisk the mayonnaise, sesame paste, rice vinegar, soy sauce, maple syrup, toasted sesame oil, ginger juice, and salt together until it's smooth and creamy.
- Store the sesame dressing in a jar or squeeze bottle in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it on a Japanese salad.