There was a time (in the not-so-distant past) that we didn’t rely on overly processed food from the supermarket for every little thing. Before the grocery aisles were jam-packed with 173 kinds of salad dressing, there was oil and vinegar, and people spiced those up by whisking in a handful of other common items to create dressings far tastier than the pre-made stuff. Vinaigrette is one of the simplest dressings to make from scratch, and creamy dressings are equally simple with a few basic ingredients.
You might be amazed at how much flavor you will be able to create at home with nothing more than simple fridge items, a few spices and a whisk (or, as I’ll show you today, a food processor). On the economic side, it costs pennies on the dollar to make your own dips and dressings, and it only takes a few minutes to pull them together.
The other benefit of making your own dressing—besides the savings and the flavor factor—is that you will know exactly what is in it. Commercial dressings contain so many stabilizing and preservative ingredients that aren’t necessary. And if it seems a healthier bet to buy the packets of ranch dressing mix and “make it yourself” with fresh buttermilk, all I can suggest is to take a closer look:
I suppose these ingredients might be perfectly harmless (remember when they said that about partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?), but it’s a fair assumption that the fresh herbs and minimal spices you add to a real homemade dressing will present a lesser concern. And your dressing will taste better, which might even lead you to enjoying more salads and vegetables.
For this creamy ranch dressing dip, I have used a whole bulb of roasted garlic to add a mellow flavor to plain Greek yogurt, buttermilk, olive oil-based mayo and a bunch of fresh herbs. A little salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and that’s all there was to it. If you prefer a bit more zing, use fresh garlic, but only a fraction of what is called for here. If you don’t have the same fresh herbs, substitute what you have or what you like. If you want to add half of a ripe avocado in place of some of the mayonnaise, go for it.
My homemade roasted garlic ranch dip was intended for dipping fresh veggies as a game day snack, but if you prefer a more pourable dressing for salads, simply ease up on the mayo and use more buttermilk.
This recipe makes about 1 1/4 cups.
2 scallions, white and green parts
1 small handful fresh parsley
1 small handful fresh dill
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 an average-sized fruit)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise* (see notes)
1 bulb roasted garlic*
1/4 cup thick, cultured buttermilk*
1/4 cup stirred Greek yogurt (whole fat or 2% recommended)
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. carboxymethylcellulose (just kidding—I’ve never heard of this, but it’s in the store-bought ranch mix!)
Choose a mayonnaise that you trust, bearing in mind that labels can be misleading. The front of the jar may suggest that your mayo is made with olive oil, but on further inspection, soybean oil could be listed as the first (most prominent) ingredient, with the healthier oil listed much later. Learning what your food is made of can be an eye-opener, and when you do find a product that meets your health standards, you will be able to build on it to make a lot of other foods serve you better.
Thick buttermilk works especially well for dip-style dressings. Look for a brand that doesn’t have a lot of “gum” ingredients, which are unnecessary stabilizers. Bacterial cultures should be present in good buttermilk as well. And for this dip, I do not recommend making a buttermilk substitute using regular milk and lemon juice or vinegar. That works for some baking recipes, but not in this instance, as you will miss the smooth textural element that buttermilk lends to your dip or dressing.
I love roasting garlic for use in many things, and it is easy to do. If you have never made your own, you may find some helpful tips in my previous post for making your own roasted garlic. When roasted, the garlic takes on a mellow, somewhat nutty flavor that lends a lot of depth to foods. If you prefer fresh, or simply don’t have the time or patience to roast it, I would recommend only using one or two segments of the garlic rather than a whole bulb (unless you’re battling vampires, obviously).
- Begin by chopping up your fresh herbs, together with the Dijon, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. I made a small batch this time, and my processor only rough-chopped these ingredients, even in the small insert bowl. As long as the volume reduces to make room for the other ingredients, it’s fine.
- Add the mayo and pulse to combine. Add the roasted garlic and process until you no longer see visible bits of the garlic.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add yogurt, buttermilk and onion powder, and whisk until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste (remember that additional salt will need time to dissolve, so you may want to let it rest a few minutes before final taste adjustments).
- Chill the dip at least one hour before serving. Enjoy within a few days for best freshness and give it a good stir when you take it out of the fridge.