Five or so years ago, I was having a conversation with my brother about salad dressing nationality when I made the observation that our U.S.A.-made salads were in need of a little patriotism. Italy, France and Russia all have dressings bearing their names. “What about America?” I wondered out loud. “Why isn’t there an American dressing.”
“It’s called Ranch,” he replied. Touché, mon frère. Touché.
Ranch really is about as American as it gets when it comes to dressings. It’s been the best-selling salad dressing in the U.S. since 1992, according to the Association of Dressings and Sauces (yes, there is such a thing), and originated at a dude ranch called Hidden Valley (again, yes, there is such a thing) near Santa Barbara, Calif., in the mid-’50s. Needless to say, there are gobs and gobs of ranch dressings available at the grocery store, and it can be surprisingly tricky to replicate something with such specific and familiar taste. This Mark Bittman recipe from the NYT cookbook isn’t Hidden Valley, but it’s a wonderful, fresh-tasting alternative. The buttermilk powder (which I never even knew existed before trying this recipe) seems to be the secret to that ranch-like consistency, and the chopped chives add the fresh-from-the-garden flavor that makes all the difference.
Real Ranch Dressing
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 612)
• 1 cup mayonnaise
• ½ cup buttermilk
• ¼ cup buttermilk powder
• freshly ground black pepper
• ½ teaspoon onion powder (This is my addition to the original recipe; it’s yummy without, but the onion powder adds a bit more pizzazz to the overall flavor.)
• ¼ cup chopped fresh chives or parsley (I went the chives route.)
Put mayonnaise, buttermilk and buttermilk powder in a medium-sized jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the onion powder, a little salt (about ¼ teaspoon) and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Add chives or parsley, put lid on, and shake jar vigorously for at least 30 seconds.
Taste and adjust seasonings. Use immediately, or refrigerate for a few days. [Note: The dressing will keep longer if you don’t add the fresh herbs.]
This dressing works so well on a veggie-filled salad. In addition to the spinach, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and shallots (our slightly milder alternative to the please-don’t-breathe-near-me red onions that we love so much), we added a handful of croutons, Jared’s homemade specialty that will hereafter be referred to as Jared’s crunchtons. They’re easy peasy to whip up (especially when Jared does the making. Woo hoo!) and taste so crazy good, I could eat them by the bowlful. That Jared is a mighty skilled kitchen wizard when he puts his mind to it.
From Jared, the hubs
• 3 to 4 slices of bread (sourdough or sourdough wheat works really well)
• 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
• ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Cut bread into roughly 1-inch cubes (keep the crust on; it adds extra crunch), and place in a large skillet over medium heat. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the bread cubes, and sprinkle with salt. Toast bread in the pan for 4 to 5 minutes, tossing occasionally to prevent burning. Crunchtons are finished when they just begin to blacken.
So there you have it! A few easy-as-pie recipes that can be thrown together on the fly and enjoyed in a snap. Perfect for a weekday lunch when you’re looking for something substantial but don’t have tons of time for clowning around (then again, clowns might like salads. They can make a mighty colorful, happy-looking dish).
What’s your fave salad dressing flavor? Have you ever tried your hand at homemade dressings or vinaigrettes? Or maybe another sauce or condiment? How did it turn out? Let’s hear it!