This easy Homemade Peruvian Salad Dressing recipe features fresh strawberries (fresas frescas), a few common pantry ingredients, a bit of heat from ají amarillo paste, and several sprigs of fresh mint. It's versatile enough for most salads, but we love it on a simple salad of greens, tomatoes (or tree tomatoes), queso fresco, radishes, and avocado... similar to one we had at Gaston Acurio's restaurant Chicha in Cuzco.
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - Peruvian Salad Dressing Inspiration
A week ago, Mark and I returned from our 4th studies abroad trip to Peru. After the pandemic kept us home in 2020 and 2021, we were beyond excited to return. We definitely had our challenges - especially on the Vilcabamba trek - but the trip was everything we hoped it would be (and more)!
Our group of 18 included 10 Mexican-Americans, an Anglo-Korean couple, a Brazilian, an indigenous Quechua Peruvian and her American husband (our guides), my husband/dean/professor Mark and I, and his colleague Dr. Robert Bradley. The students earned honors credits in biology and art history. It's an amazing opportunity for our students!
We always look forward to enjoying the restaurants in Peru, especially in Cuzco and Lima. We've eaten in Virgilio Martinez' MIL in The Sacred Valley, and Gaston Acurio's Chicha in Cuzco. We've had amazing ceviche in Lima, but never discount the fresh ceviche de trucha in Cuzco and The Sacred Valley. We had the pleasure of trying North Coast Peruvian cuisine at Pueblo Viejo in Lima; its Chiclayana chef/owner is Dr. Bradley's aunt by marriage. The food was fantastic!
Our second trip to Gaston Acurio's restaurant Chicha was every bit the culinary experience of our 2017 trip. We started our meal with the Regocijo Salad - a very fresh tasting salad of greens, avocado, queso fresco, etc. - drizzled with a tasty strawberry salad dressing.
The salad was delicious, but it was the salad dressing itself that made an impression. Peruvians consume a lot of fresh strawberries, in everything from jugo (juice) to smoothies, salads, desserts, and more. However, I had not had them used in a Peruvian salad dressing.
Gaston Acurio is a world-renowned Peruvian chef, and his cookbooks and dishes have often inspired me. This lima bean salad and this star anise infused chilcano were inspired by a Chicha dish (former), and one of Acurio's cookbooks (latter). In the case of this ultra-fresh strawberry vinaigrette, I only had my gut instincts to guide me.
"Regocijo" loosely translates "rejoicing." I'm not sure what the connection to the salad might be.🧐 I asked our server about the sausages and bacon, and he claims it was in the dressing. My Spanish is not good enough to argue, but I sure didn't taste any sausage or bacon in the dressing. I did not pursue including it in my dressing recipe! Lol. The salad dressing is vegan, and while my salad did include queso fresco like the restaurant version, it is optional.
📋 Ingredients You'll Need
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
- strawberries - Fresh strawberries are key in this salad dressing, so no frozen strawberries please! Depending on how ripe your strawberries are, you may or may not need sweetener.
- shallot - Red onion or sweet onion are good substitutes.
- fresh lime juice - The freshest ingredients are what "makes" this dressing, so no bottled lime juice. 😊
- vinegar - Choose a mild vinegar like white wine, sherry, champagne vinegar, etc. I use white wine vinegar.
- olive oil
- sweetener - My strawberries were perfectly ripe and sweet on photo day, so I didn't use any sweetener. Add the sweetener and salt to taste at the end. I suggest a liquid sweetener like honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar.
- mustard - I like dijon mustard for this vinaigrette, but use your preferred mustard or what you have on hand. It's only a teaspoon, and not a key ingredient.
- ají amarillo paste - If you can't find ají amarillo paste locally, you can buy it online or make ají amarillo paste at home.
- fresh mint - The fresh mint is important for the Peruvian flavor, but you will still have a great vinaigrette if you omit it. You could also substitute basil or cilantro.
- fine sea salt
- Add all ingredients to blender. Pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust as needed with salt, pepper, sweetener, and vinegar.
Given that it's made with fresh (perishable) strawberries and has no preservatives, I recommend using it within 1-2 days.
The salad dressing separates when frozen, so I wouldn't recommend it.
The sweetness of strawberries varies greatly. If you want a sweeter dressing, add honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar to taste.
If you like a more acidic dressing, add more lime juice or vinegar. Conversely, you can reduce the acidity by adding a bit more olive oil.
This Peruvian salad dressing can be used as a template. Simply switch out the fresh fruit. Maracuya (aka passionfruit) works well. I have also substituted preserves (with no added sugar) for the fruit as in this raspberry vinaigrette.
🥗 Pairing Suggestions
- greens - Spinach, baby kale, leaf and butter lettuce are all good options.
- cheese - In Peru, this salad featured queso Andino which is like Mexican queso fresco. That's my preference. However, mozzarella and feta would be tasty as well.
- veggies - The Chicha salad menu description included chicory, fennel, and bell pepper, but I did not include them on photo day. I love fennel, and I think it would be an amazing addition! Choose your favorites.
- extras - The Chicha salad menu included bacon and sausage. Our server claimed it was puréed in the dressing. I didn't taste it, and I'm not sure I'd want it. It also included chick peas which would be a welcome addition and boost the flavor. I think adding some cubed cooked chicken would make it a fabulous main dish salad (rotisserie chicken perhaps?).
To Pair with the Salad and Dressing
- Peruvian roasted chicken
- Latin mango chicken
- Peruvian chicken and rice
- ají de gallina
- Peruvian baked cod with huancaina sauce
The regocijo salad was followed by Don Johan Hatching Eggs (no clue on the translation!) - a bit like eggs benedict, with potato brioche, white asparagus, smoked trout, huacatay and hollandaise sauce. The creamy corn polenta with tender lamb braised in red wine and garnished with turnip and pickled radish was fantastic. The dessert might be the best I've ever had - Quillabamba's chocolate souffle with muña (Andean mint) ice cream!
Sorry for chasing rabbits! I'm looking forward to the weeks and months ahead and continuing to work on bringing Peruvian flavors to home cooks outside of Peru. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below...
Peruvian Salad Dressing Recipe
- Add all ingredients to blender. Pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust as needed.
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.