Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Healthier Garlic Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

My first taste of homemade ranch dressing was a revelatory experience: The clean, bright tang of the buttermilk, the fresh and honest herbal notes, the earthy pungency of the garlic and the naturally creamy, not-too-thick and not-too-runny mouthfeel was truly magnificent and eye-opening. I will never go back to bottled supermarket ranch dressing again.

Homemade buttermilk ranch dressing tastes best if you make it ahead of time, ideally the day before you want to use it but in any event at least a few hours beforehand. This allows the flavors to come together and develop, and also takes the "edge" off the raw garlic.

I developed this recipe after researching dozens of different buttermilk salad dressing recipes in cookbooks and online, many of which use quite a bit of sour cream and/or mayonnaise or "cheater's" ingredients like a packet of commercial dry dressing mix. I chose to go the natural, from-scratch route that kept high-fat ingredients to a minimum.

Despite its name, real buttermilk is naturally low in fat. Its thick body comes from the bacterial cultures in the milk, which also create the tang. So to keep the fat content of my dressing naturally low without sacrificing texture or flavor, I used real organic buttermilk, organic nonfat plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and as little organic mayonnaise as I could get away with. If you can afford the organic ingredients, I highly recommend them for the best flavor.

My homemade ranch dressing has a zesty garlic flavor that's quite appealing if you love garlic. If you'd rather have a mellower, more traditional buttermilk ranch dressing that's not as garlicky, use only 1 small clove of minced garlic. For a delightfully cheesy, Italian-inspired Parmesan Ranch dressing, simply add 1/4 cup (or more to taste) of real grated Parmigiano cheese and 1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried oregano.

The one drawback to fresh, homemade ranch dressing is that it should be used within 3 to 4 days, at least according to what I've read. But it's fantastic on much more than mere salad: Try it on baked potatoes, as a seafood sauce, as a dip for raw vegetables or hot wings or fried appetizers, and even with potato chips or pretzels.

1 cup buttermilk*
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley (or 1 Tbs dried parsley)
2 Tbs nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tsp white wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp (or to taste) Kosher salt
1/4 tsp (or to taste) ground pepper
1/4 tsp dried dill (or up to 1 tsp fresh dill)

*I don't recommend "low fat" buttermilk, i.e., buttermilk that has been labeled reduced- or low-fat, because it has only slightly less fat than real buttermilk and for best results you need to use the real thing in this recipe. I do recommend shaking the container of buttermilk before measuring out 1 cup for this recipe.

Place all ingredients in a pint mason jar, cover tightly with lid and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Taste for balance and add a little more salt or pepper if desired, or even a little more vinegar if not tangy enough or a touch more mayo or yogurt for a thicker, less tangy dressing (remember that the flavors will come together and round out with a few hours). Refrigerate for at least a few hours, and ideally overnight.  Use within 3 to 4 days.

Zestfully yours,

PS: If you enjoy the tangy flavor and crispy crunch of Ranch-flavored potato chips or nacho chips, but prefer a healthier snack that's extremely low in carbs and isn't loaded with artificial ingredients, try Deano's Ranch Jalapeno Chips, made from real sliced jalapeno peppers instead of potatoes or corn!

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