Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cranberry Yogurt Salad Dressing and a Homemade Dressing Primer

After making the cranberry syrup for my pumpkin pancakes a few nights ago, I tried to think of another recipe where I could use the cranberries. I was in the mood for a big spinach salad with dried berries and cheese, and figured making a cranberry salad dressing would be a nice match. I love making salad dressing at home because it's so easy, it's cheap, and you never end up with countless half-empty bottles in the fridge. You also have the opportunity to be creative and use up whatever you have on hand.
I'm not a fan of oily dressings, I prefer a creamy base, however I don't like mayo. I prefer to sub plain or vanilla yogurt, both greek and regular depending on the consistency. I tend to use a 1:1 acid to oil ratio, and use other flavors to balance out the vinegar, but some more traditional dressing recipes call for a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. Use what you like!

There are a few simple rules I follow when making a dressing, and a few cooking tools have made this so much easier!
My standard dressing is made of:
-salt and pepper
-special flavor.

OIL elements I use:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Plain or Vanilla Greek Yogurt
Plain or Vanilla Lowfat Yogurt
Sour Cream
Coconut Milk
Cottage Cheese
Sesame Oil (use sparingly!)
(Note: I always use at least 1-2 tbsp. EVOO plus one or more of the other oil substitutes, never just a substitute as I find a little oil helps stabilize the dressing)

VINEGAR elements I use:
Balsamic Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
Champagne Vinegar
Lemon/Lime/Grapefruit Juice

Parsley, Oregano, Cilantro, Basil, Rosemary, Chives, Tarragon
Garlic, Red Onion, Scallions
Cinnamon, Ginger, Paprika, Cumin, Corriander

SUGAR I use:
Raw Sugar
Maple Syrup
Fruit Puree or Juice

SPECIAL FLAVORS are really anything you can imagine. Some special flavors I have used to create dressings are
Fruit: Blueberry, Pear, Cranberry, Mango
Nut: Tahini, Peanut Butter, Pecan, Walnut
Vegetable: Carrot, Avocado, Sun-dried Tomato
Misc: Sriracha, Jam/Jelly, Mustard, Soy Sauce
Cheese: Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Feta, Asiago

From these ingredients, which many people keep on hand all of the time, you can create a million dressing combinations!
Check the dressing tag on my blog for some of the dressings I have created (or found on other blogs, cookbooks, etc.) are:
Blue Cheese Vinaigrette (this is one of my favorites)

For this salad, I made a simple creamy cranberry yogurt dressing.
1 cup fresh cramberries
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. raw sugar
3/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Bring cranberries, water and sugar to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, remove from heat and bring to room temperature.
Add cranberries and remaining ingredients to a blender, puree until smooth.

Now the 2 things that I think make homemade dressing SO easy are:
1. The Magic Bullet - this is a small, food processor/blender that sits on the counter and has a 1 or 2 cup capacity. I use it almost every day, and every time I make dressing to whirl up a small batch for JJ and I.
2. The Aerogarden - When I have a house, I plan to plant a nice herb garden, but for apartment living, or people without garden aspirations, this is a small hydroponic garden system that grows 7 herb varieties at a time. I like the Italian Herb mix, but they're all great. This makes adding fresh herbs to my dressings a pinch, especially when I want 5-6 herbs a week and they're about $2 a bunch. The system is expensive to begin with, but I think it has paid for itself (and it looks pretty cool!)

If you have any questions about the dressing combinations, or want to suggest one that you make at home, please let me know, I love trying new dressings at home!

And please remember, when you make your dressings, TASTE! TASTE! TASTE! You'll have to work with them a bit because there are no true measurements, but err on the side of caution when adding strong flavors, vinegar, spices, salt, etc. You can always add a splash more vinegar or a pinch of salt, but if it's too much to begin with, you'll most likely have to start over.


Meredith said...

Thanks for creating such a reference. I have been wanting to try some different homemade dressings.

Joanne said...

From what I can tell, your homemade salad dressings look way better than the storebought ones. They are much more creative and MUCH healthier. I love cranberries and am in a cranberry mood this week as well!

That Aerogarden sounds so cool. I will have to look into it!

Tasha said...

This is a great guide. I've been making more of my own dressing lately but without any kind of "formula," so it's been hit or miss. Thanks for sharing!

Finsmom said...

This looks heavenly... love all those great ingredients! Such a great photo!

Kelly said...

I love making homemade dressings as well. It can really perk up an everyday salad. I think the only downside is that since I live alone I can rarely use it fast enough before it goes bad. :-( That was a great primer.

Anonymous said...

I have just stumbled across your blog and I am loving all of your creative recipes. You seem to be quite talented woman in the kitchen.
I can't wait to see some more of your creations.

Amy said...

Thanks so much for sharing this guide! Very helpful!