Lots of Lettuce and Homemade Ranch Dressing to Put on It

Makings for homemade ranch dressing. The microplane turns garlic and shallots into a fine puree.

Lots of luscious lettuce around here is turning into a challenge to eat before it bolts, which some of it did during our little heat wave last week. I grow tender bibb; deer tongue; a red-tinged, frilled-leaf thing called Red Sails; a solid deep-purple red called Merlot; and have volunteers of a crunchy green lettuce with a tendency to form a tall head like romaine, plus volunteer oakleaf that forms a big fluffy, chartreuse head. Mixed, with a few miscellaneous items like parsley, claytonia, arugula, and chard or beet greens thinnings tossed in, and I have a rather elegant tossed green salad.

This time of year, when it is hot and humid, and cooking is a stretch, I put a big pile of salad on our plates then top with cold cooked chicken or pork, or thinly sliced salami, shredded cheese or cottage cheese, cold potato, pasta, or bean salads, cole slaw, a few pickles and olives, or any cold cooked vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or peas, and shredded carrots. And bless him, Toby, who is, in his heart of hearts, a meat and potatoes kind of guy, seems to be very happy with this kind of supper.

Most of the time, I can content myself with oil and vinegar as sole dressing. It is fun once in a while to vary it with a creamy lemon and chive, or an Italian style dressing. Once in a while, I think a ranch-style dressing would be very good. The problem is I have a sturdy resistance to buying bottled salad dressing. I always look at the price and think, “for this much I could buy the ingredients for a homemade one and makes lots more.” Cheap, cheap, cheap. Well, sort of: I’d rather spend my money on more expensive oil, and pricier vinegar, or lemons to squeeze.

There are, however, some good recipes around for homemade ranch dressing. It turns out to be a snap, and if you are the sort of person who keeps around buttermilk for making pancakes or cornbread, then you probably have most of the ingredients on hand, most of the time. You have to have buttermilk. Then you add mayonnaise, sour cream, usually, then vinegar or lemon juice, garlic, parsley, dill, and something onion-y like onions, shallots, scallions, or chives, and salt and pepper. That is pretty much it. If it is winter, use dried herbs, and mix ahead of time to allow the flavors to develop. Well, do that anyway. Keep it in the fridge.

By the way, I use my microplane to grate garlic and shallots for almost everything these days, including this dressing. It’s easy to clean.

All of us natural-born recipe-tinkerers can have a good time trying to come up with a reasonable or improved facsimile of our favorite commercial ranch dressing.

Ranch Style Dressing

¾ cup mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

1 cup buttermilk

1 clove of garlic, pureed

1 tablespoon each of minced parsley and dill

1 shallot clove, finely minced

Salt and pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl, or if you wish, put into a blender or food processor and puree. Or shake it in a jar. Store in the fridge until use.

Makes about two and a quarter cups of dressing.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.