When I was in highschool, my dad worked for a consumer products company that owned a handful of manufactured food brands. Included was a restaurant supplier that made Mozzarella cheese sticks….quite the novelty back then. Whenever my parents went out of town, my brother and I would throw unsanctioned ragers, which inevitably ended with us pulling out the industrial-size bags of frozen Mozzarella and brewing up a bubbling pot of frying oil. Lucky for us, my dad’s company also owned Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, which was the perfect condiment for fried cheese. Perhaps more fortunate still, was that nothing injurious ever resulted from a group of tipsy highschoolers manning a deep fat fryer.
Although I’m pretty certain I haven’t touched a fried cheese stick since I was about 16, I can’t say the same about ranch dressing. I do like the stuff, as do my kids. But, it doesn’t make the cut on the shopping list; I’m not so nuts for the ingredients. The few times I’ve tried to pass off the organic brands for the real deal, I get a grumble from the kids (and the hubby). So, I figured it was time to make my own.
My aim was to create a healthy ranch dip…something lip smackingly delicious, but lower in fat and calories, and purer in ingredients, than Hidden Valley (although they too now make an organic version that doesn’t have the MSG or artificial flavors of the original). Instead of buttermilk for the dressing’s signature tang, I opted for plain yogurt. It’s something I always have on hand, plus, I don’t like to toss out the leftover buttermilk that inevitably results. Sour cream and a touch of mayonnaise round out the richness. Chives and garlic give it zing. The whole thing gets whirled all at once in the food processor.
My kids uniformly agreed this homemade version beat even the original. They’ve enjoyed it over tomato, cucumber and hearts of romaine salad, as well as in their lunchboxes with carrots and peppers for dipping.
As to how it pairs with fried Mozzarella, I’m sure I’ll never know.
HEALTHIER HOMEMADE RANCH DIP OR DRESSING
If you are serving this for a vegetable dip, keep it as is. If using it to dress a salad, whisk in a little milk or olive oil until it thins to your desired consistency. You can play around with the amount of garlic, cutting it to half of a clove to start, particularly if your kids are sensitive to the taste.
½ cup non-fat, plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (regular or light, whatever you have on hand)
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
Put the yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise, chives, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add a few grinds of black pepper. Whirl until smooth. If you don’t have a food processor, finely mince the garlic and whisk all of the ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth.
Store in the fridge.
Makes about ¾ cup
Photo credit Jennifer Martine, Best Lunch Box Ever (Chronicle Books, 2013)