Forget the bottled stuff. Homemade ranch dressing is one of the most refreshing ways to dress a salad, especially in the summertime. A touch of cool, creamy buttermilk ranch, speckled with fresh herbs, drizzled over fresh greens? Heavenly. And making ranch dressing is literally a 2-minute affair. But first, we need to talk about mayonnaise.
Under ordinary circumstances, I'm not mayo's biggest cheerleader. I've given you half a dozen potato salads, and none of them with mayo; I usually prefer lighter yogurt or vinegar-based dressings.
Even so, there are still places for rich mayonnaise in the kitchen, and classic ranch dressing is one of them.
Mayonnaise plays a significant part in creating that distinctive ranch flavor, and it also lends body to the dressing. Lighter options like yogurt are delicious, but yogurt won't give the same smooth texture and full body. Homemade ranch dressing is one of the only reasons I keep a jar of mayonnaise in the refrigerator.
Ranch dressing over a salad of butter lettuce, pickled beets, pine nuts, and goat cheese. Together, mayonnaise and buttermilk form the base of ranch dressing. After that, there are many options to kick up the essential formula: Vinegar, for a bit of extra tang. I like to use rice vinegar, which is more delicate, although white wine or cider vinegar would be more traditional. Garlic powder (like mayonnaise, I only keep this around for ranch dressing). Fresh herbs, if you're so inclined.
Just remember the base formula: 1 part mayo to 2 parts buttermilk, with a dash of salt and pepper, and build from there.
I kept the proportions in this recipe small, since I think this is one dressing that's best when it is made fresh. I do make it a little ahead and stick it back in the fridge, since this helps it thicken up before dressing the salad (which I do an instant before bringing it to the table). But it will last a few days in the fridge, so feel free to double it and stash away a jar.
Quick Ranch Dressing
Makes 3 to 4 tablespoons, enough to dress 1 salad
2 tablespoons well-shaken cultured buttermilk
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar, optional
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, optional
1 to 3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives, mint, and/or Italian parsley, optional
Whisk together the buttermilk and mayonnaise. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
If desired, whisk in rice vinegar, garlic powder, and herbs. Refrigerate until serving and up to 3 days.
More Essential Salad Dressings
(Images: Faith Durand)