In Search Of – Creamy Salad Dressing!

I eat salad – a lot. I eat salads for lunch all summer. With a different assortment of vegetables every week, it never feels repetitive or boring, it readily lends itself to preprep and fast assembly, and it’s a great way to eat a lot of lovely fresh vegetables.

And I like to make my own salad dressings. It seems silly to me to pay for an oil and vinegar based dressing when I can make a better, fresher one at home in five minutes (or less) for much less money and with better ingredients.

But I’m missing one thing –  creamy salad dressings. See, when I carry a lunch, and eat in a park, I prefer the thicker dressings. I have a nice little Tupperware leakproof container for my dressing – but then, I pour it into a salad container that… well… is not totally leakproof…  I eat it from that, and that’s fine, but I don’t have facilities to clean it in the park, and I’ve found that an oil and vinegar dressing does, sometimes, leak – just a tiny bit, but still… and a creamy thick one does not. So I’ve been using commercial dressings for that – and I wanted to try something different.

The problem was that most thick dressings are mayonnaise based, and I was making something specifically to carry on a hot day. Now, I don’t really carry it long – my schedule swings a bit late in the day – and, if it’s really hot, or I’ll have it out a while, I do use a thermal bag and ice pack. But still… I didn’t want to make something I’d always have to pay attention to, and I know all the mayo based food poisoning horror stories… I decided I wanted to find something else.

First, I decided to try with a bunch of dill. I’d looked up recipes and suggestions, and people seemed to be using Greek Yogurt, which is nice and thick…  So I copped the dill, and put it in a mini food processor.

Processed it a minute, then added yogurt, and just a touch of olive oil to help it cling. Processed that until smooth – it was delicious.

The yogurt is tangy in a very different way than vinegar, and it was really good. But it was also really wet… the processing took away the thickness of the yogurt, even after it had chilled again. So, good, I’ll make it again – but not what I was looking for.

Thinking… I saw a suggestion for making one with a fresh tomato, which sounded really good. But… wet… Then I remembered, back in the “All Fat is Evil” nineties, blending cottage cheese and yogurt to make a thick, creamy dip – which people always seemed to really like. That was the texture I was looking for… so…

I only want to make a small amount, with the fresh tomato, as it should be used up in a few days. So, I put 1/4 cup of that Greek yogurt, and a 1/4 cup of natural cottage cheese (without stabilizers – they’ll affect the texture adversely – see Note) in a blender with half a very ripe tomato.

Blended it until smooth, then added a sprinkle of dried basil. (Dried, mostly because that’s what I had, but also because pink flecked with green is pretty – pink with green fully blended in is muddy…)

Again, delicious, and thicker than the dill, but still too runny. Oh, right – the tomato made it runny… of course!

Well, two possible approaches here. One is just to go ahead with that recipe, but using fresh (or dried) herbs or other flavoring instead of tomato. And I plan to do that, one of these days…  But the other, since we are well into tomato season, and they’re just bursting with flavor, is to keep on trying to find a creamy tomato dressing.

OK – the basic idea was sound – adjust proportions?

I used half a cup of cottage cheese, this time. I added a heaping spoonful of Greek Yogurt, for the tang, , and a tablespoon of olive oil (which I’d forgotten last time) remembering that even a little helps the dressing cling to leaves. I blended that – and then, again, stirred in the dried basil. Oh – I didn’t add any salt – there is some already in the cottage cheese.

We have a winner! Even right out of the blender, it was thick and creamy – chilling it let it thicken again even a bit more (after the blending made it runny.) And I thought it really tasted good.

I hope showing you the experimentation I used helps. I started knowing enough that nothing was bad, nothing was at all a waste of food or time, but I found the way to make exactly what I wanted, which was not any recipe I had seen. (I have no doubt someone else has figured out something like this – cooking works that way, we’re all using the same ingredients and methods –  but I haven’t seen it…)

Note: Cottage cheese. I use Friendship, which is a local brand in the East Coast. Its ingredients are basically milk (in various forms – skimmed, cream, selection varies by type of cheese) salt, and enzymes (and these days they pack it with carbon dioxide to keep out oxygen, for freshness.) That’s what I grew up eating – and I was confused to find other cottage cheeses that had a different mouthfeel… and seemed… runnier… and didn’t work as well in my recipes… Well – many companies, even  organic ones,  now use stabilizers, such as food starch and guar gum. So far as I can tell, they drain off less of the whey, and then use thickeners. At any rate, I find cottage cheese with stabilizers too runny to cook well with – it affects the texture of the final product. I have no idea what brands might make a natural cottage cheese in the rest of the country, but you may want to read labels, and know that ingredients affect results.

Now – in this recipe, the food starch and gum thickeners may in fact work. I did use a brand with them to make smoothies at one point, and it was fine – but it was too wet, when I tried to make a cheese tart. I don’t have it on hand to try, though. I really suggest you see if you can find a brand local to you that is just cheese, for cooking, at least.

Creamy Tomato Salad Dressing

1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 T Greek yogurt
1 T olive oil
1/2 large, ripe tomato (or 1 small one,) cut up
1 t dried basil

Combine first four ingredients in a blender jar Blend until smooth. Stir in basil.

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