Ranch Dressing Meets Paleo, For All Your Dipping Needs

Ranch dressing: It’s a favorite among most people, a staple in most refrigerators. Drizzled on salads or used as a dip for veggies, wings or even pizza. It’s thick and it’s decadent and, done right, not too good for you … but of so yummy.

According to Pioneer Woman’s homemade ranch dressing recipe, it contains mayonnaise, sour cream and buttermilk. While she’s quick to point you could use the low fat versions, I’m thinking we could take this a bit further. Sorry to all my ranch loving friends out there, whom I know there are many of: I may be about to commit ranch sacrilege. But, trust me, what I’m about to tell you will be OK.

Amy pointed me to one of the recipes in her rotation, pinned on We The Eaters board, for a paleo ranch. Since paleo cuts out dairy, you can’t use the sour cream or buttermilk. The base is a hand made paleo mayonnaise, made of egg, olive oil, lemon, mustard and salt. Seasoned with the usual ranch herbs and garlic, it’ll feed your cravings for the decadent dressing. If you’re going dairy free, doing a Whole30 elimination diet or just want to lighten things up a little, this is a great dressing to try.

Making your own mayonnaise might sound a little hard or complicated, but this recipe is super easy. I made this while doing the Whole30 diet a while back and found that the immersion blender works extremely well and quick. That little stick blender may be my favorite kitchen gadget of all time. You can make it by hand with a whisk and some muscle, but you risk breaking the emulsion, which, it turns out, can be fixed. The best part is, it can be used as a base for so many dressings, not just ranch. Or even just a base for tuna or chicken salad.

The best part, like the vinaigrette dressings Amy featured last week, you can treat this recipe as a blank canvas. There are many variations and possibilities. Kick it up with chipotle and lime, play with the herbs or add different seasonings, try adding curry powder or paste – seriously, you can’t go wrong.

Paleo Meets Pioneer Ranch Dressing
If you’re looking to lighten up your ranch habit, try this perfect marriage of a paleo mayonnaise base with the full flavor of Pioneer Woman’s dressing.

Paleo Mayonnaise
1-1/4 cup of light olive oil, divided
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 lemon, juiced

Ranch Ingredients
1/2 cup paleo mayonnaise
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, fresh
2 tablespoons chives, fresh
dill, fresh, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

To make the mayonnaise…
I find an immersion blender works best, but you can whisk by hand or use a blender or food processor. Crack the egg into a tall glass, if using an immersion blender, and add the salt and mustard. Start blending and begin to slowly pour in the olive oil. After you’ve added all the oil and the mixture has emulsified, add lemon juice to taste, stirring gently with a spoon to incorporate.

To make the ranch…
Peel the garlic and either grate or make a garlic paste by hand if you don’t have a grater. To do this, smash the garlic with a chef’s knife laid flat, finely chop, then sprinkle with a large pinch of kosher salt and start to mash it with the back of a fork.

Finely chop the parsley, chives and dill. In a mixing bowl, add the mayonnaise, coconut milk, garlic and herbs. Mix till all is well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Give the dressing a taste, preferably with a bit of lettuce or other fresh veggie. Alter to your taste! Add more herbs, salt or pepper.

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Vinaigrette 101

Oil… Vinegar… Mustard… Salt…

Those ingredients are pretty recognizable as the standard ingredients for vinaigrette. But maybe not to someone who’d never made their own salad dressing before.

A dozen years ago, a woman I worked with at NPR and I began an underground lunch club. We’d come up with a menu of delicious food items that our colleagues would “order” from. Then we’d get together at her home on the weekend and whip things up. I learned a lot from this culinary soul sister about making simple ingredients shine.

One of my favorite recipes (second only to her grilled shrimp), was a very basic vinaigrette. She used canola oil, Cento (and the brand was important to her recipe) Red Wine Vinegar and Dijon-style mustard. She dress a simple salad of pickled red onions (Sarah and I are both probably as addicted to these delicious things as we are bacon jam), cannellini beans and fresh Italian parsley.

I could literally could eat that salad daily for lunch.

Over the years, I’ve tweaked that recipe to include roasted garlic and fresh thyme. I’ve played with using different kinds of vinegar, including a new favorite: champagne vinegar. It is a staple in my business as a personal chef, and often a gateway drug for salad-obsessed clients. That’s meant I’ve had to come up (frequently!) with new and exciting vinaigrette versions to try.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Greek Vinaigrette … paired with a salad laden with cucumber, tomatoes, olives and Feta — so perfect for summer!

Cilantro Lemon Vinaigrette … great for summer, and doubles nicely as a marinade for chicken, fish or veggies!

Apple Cider Turmeric Vinaigrette … I am always looking for ways to get more turmeric, an antioxidant powerhouse, into my diet.

Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette … a customer favorite, and one of mine, too!

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette … love the whole grain in this, and the maple-y sweetness!

As you can see, a pretty vast array. So your challenge this week is to throw something together using the basic recipe below and your own creativity and turn us on to something new. Cause, you know, we love playing with our food around here…

Submit the best original vinaigrette recipe in the comments section below or on our Facebook page and you could win a gift from We The Eaters!

Basic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup vinegar
1 tablespoons seasoning liquid (mustard, maple syrup, citrus juice, fruit puree)
3/4 cup oil
Fresh seasonings, as desired (fresh or dried herbs)
Pinch of sugar, if desired (this cuts some of the acidity, but is not necessary)
Pepper, if desired

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and your seasoning liquid until thoroughly combined. Add 1/4 cup oil slowly while whisking to emulsify, then you can add remaining olive oil and whisk to incorporate. Stir in seasonings and transfer to a glass jar or other vessel and allow flavors to develop before serving. I usually make an hour aead, particularly if you are using dry spices. Otherwise, this is ready to eat immediately. Can be stored, depending on the ingredients, up to two weeks in the refrigerator.


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Dressing My Salad Avocado Style

Summer is hitting hard this week in the Washington D.C. area. We had such a mild first week of June it almost made me forget what summers here can feel like. The weather flipped so much back into that old summer heat this weekend I could almost hear the theme from Breakfast Club playing in the background … “Don’t you forget about me … don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t”.

Needless to say, we don’t feel like cooking a whole lot around here. Sweating over a hot stove in near 100 degree heat is not my idea of fun, air conditioning or not. That, combined with the baby holes that both Amy and I have found ourselves in, doesn’t leave a lot of time or desire to make a huge involved meal.

Salads are the perfect solution. Throw some greens down, maybe some leftover chicken or rotisserie from the store, tomatoes, cucumbers, shred some sharp cheddar or plop some goat cheese down. And don’t forget those crunchy bits like sliced almonds, crushed peanuts, pickles or candied walnuts. Seriously, whatever is on hand just toss it in that sucker. They’re creative, fresh and, of course, seasonal. So where do recipes come into play?

The dressing, ladies and gentlemen, which some might argue is the star of the salad. We’ve made some salads in our time here at We The Eaters, but very few posts dedicated to the salad dressing itself. There was that one super fresh, green dressing I shared a year ago, still a favorite of mine.

To make up for this fact, and due to our current lack of energy / desire to cook anything too complicated, we’re featuring salad dressings throughout the entire month of June. Trust me, we’re not being complete slackers in the taste department. I whipped up the two avocado dressings below this evening and – whoah – I will be eating some banging salads this week to be sure!

We tend to have avocados on hand all the time. We buy a bag of them at Costco so the ripeness game can get tricky. We go from no ripe avocados to “Oh God…we have to eat a crap load before they all melt to mush!” So whirring them into a dressing is the perfect solution when they all need to be eaten right now. The avocados turn a thin, runny dressing into one that is creamy and “stick to your lettuce” thick. You could throw a half or a whole of these green wonder fruits into just about any dressing to change things up. Not to mention it’s a great way to get the good fat, fiber and nutrients packed into an avocado. Plus, if you’re lactose intolerant or avoiding dairy, you can make a pretty decent ranch like dressing using them to get that creamy base.

Since several avocados in my basket were ripe this weekend, I made two dressings. The first, a cilantro lime, has a Mexican flair and would be great drizzled on top of tacos or slathered onto a sandwich. The second, a sriracha lime, has a bit of Thai inspiration and would be great on a sandwich or used as a dipping sauce. Avocado may not seem like it goes with a Thai dressing, but it helps cut the heat from the chili sauce.

Give them a try! You’ll be happy you’re not eating dressing out of a jar and that you’re not slaving over a hot stove.

Avocado Cilantro Lime Dressing
Thanks to Founding Foodie Amy for curating our awesome Pinterest board! I found inspiration for this one there.

1 whole, ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced
1 1/2 oranges, juiced
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup cilantro, loosely packed
salt and pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients to a high powered blender, food processor or tall jar/cup for a stick blender. Blend until all is well combined. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. It’s easy to add more sriracha or honey to adjust to your tastes as well! Store in a mason jar in the fridge.

Avocado Sriracha Lime Dressing
I was inspired by this recipe on the Peas & Carrots blog. I adjusted to my tastes – rice vinegar, avocado oil, less honey, more sriracha and garlic – and threw in a whole avocado to cut the heat a bit.

1 whole, ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
1/4 cup avocado oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons sriracha chili sauce
2 large cloves garlic, pressed or grated
salt and pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients to a high powered blender, food processor or tall jar/cup for a stick blender. Blend until all is well combined. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. It’s easy to add more sriracha or honey to adjust to your tastes as well! Store in a mason jar in the fridge.

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photo credit to Aaron Otis Photography 2014

All month long we share some from-scratch dressing recipes. Cause, you know, no one wants to slave over a hot stove in the summer heat ... so salads are the best and easiest option!