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//Creamy dressings without the cream showcase the flavors of summer — or any season//

Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 2:52 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Washington Post photo)
From left, Cilantro Goddess Dressing, Cherry Tomato and Basil Dressing, Cashew Mint Dressing.

Recently, I strolled out of my office one day about 1 p.m. to find lunch, and the transition from air-conditioned building to swampland caused my glasses to fog up. The swollen air felt thick as I walked a mere block and a half for takeout, and by the time I returned to the office, my shirt was dotted with sweat. I felt feverish for a good hour afterward.

The next day, I brown-bagged it — and vowed to never forget to bring my lunch again, at least not when temperatures are in the 90s. I packed my summer usual: a salad of roasted or raw vegetables and greens topped with a homemade dressing.

The key, always, is that dressing. Why use store-bought when it's so easy to make something good at home that doesn't include all those stabilizers and preservatives and sweeteners?

I've long been a fan of a vinaigrette; my recipe typically includes less oil and more vinegar (or citrus juice) than the classic 3:1 ratio and uses a little honey to balance it out, along with mustard and garlic and whatever herb or nut (or both) strikes my fancy.

I don't know if it's their retro appeal, possibly stoked by my fond memories of ranch dressing on baked potatoes during my West Texas childhood, but lately I've turned my attention to creamier-style dressings. And I've been playing around with various ways to achieve such a consistency without resorting to mayonnaise, yogurt or sour cream.

It's not that I don't like those ingredients. Far from it. But I want a combination more waistline-friendly that showcases the flavors of the primary ingredients.

Nuts can do the trick, provided you use a blender to achieve a nice emulsion. One of my recent dressing experiments uses cashews and water instead of oil to add body and (good) fat to a dressing that also includes mint and a little vinegar. Another uses cherry tomatoes as the acidic element (and the primary flavor, along with fresh basil), while pine nuts thicken it into something that looks (but doesn't taste) like Thousand Island.

But my favorite is one I've been adapting for years in various ways: The constant is silken tofu, which purees to a beautifully creamy consistency but has a blandness that lets various herbs, alone or in combination, shine through. Lately my herb of choice has been a big handful of cilantro, which — along with a little ginger, garlic, rice vinegar and lime juice — makes for a particularly punchy version of green goddess. (Basil comes in a close second.)

Did I mention that none of the three dressings use any dairy? I didn't plan it that way, but it works for me: I'm not vegan, but the absence of cream, butter and eggs gives these condiments a flavor that's as pure and clear as the summer sun.

/Recipes//
(c) 2014, The Washington Post.

Cashew Mint Dressing

8 servings (makes about 1 cup)

Use this dairy-free dressing, a beautiful shade of pale green, on salad greens or summer vegetables.

You'll need a blender to make this; using a food processor might result in a dressing that's chunky or not quite emulsified.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

From Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook," (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

Ingredients

1/2 cup raw cashews

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

Steps

Combine the cashews, mint, vinegar, water, honey and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a blender; puree until creamy and smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender jar as needed.

Taste, and add salt if needed. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid; use right away, or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition Per serving: 50 calories, 2 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

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Cilantro Goddess Dressing

16 servings (makes about 2 cups)

Here's a vegan take on green goddess, without the mayonnaise, that helps put a fistful of herbs to good use. These proportions also can be used with other herbs (parsley, mint, basil or a combination instead of cilantro), citrus, vinegars and oils.

Use on height-of-summer tomatoes or salad greens, or as a dip for crudites.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Based on a recipe in "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook," by Post Food editor Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

Ingredients

12 ounces silken tofu, drained

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves

1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves and stems

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar

1/4 cup peanut oil (may substitute vegetable or canola oil)

1 tablespoon peeled, chopped fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

Steps

Combine the silken tofu, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, oil, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a blender or food processor; puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender or food processor bowl as needed. Taste, and add salt if needed.

Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid; use right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition Per serving: 45 calories, 1 g protein, 1 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 75 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

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Cherry Tomato and Basil Dressing

12 servings (makes about 1 1/2 cups)

Tart tomatoes give this vegan dressing its tang, with no vinegar needed, and lend a Thousand Island-esque color.

Use it on salad greens or roasted potatoes or as a dip for crudites.

You'll need a blender to make this; using a food processor might result in a dressing that's chunky or not quite emulsified.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

From Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook" (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

Ingredients

1 pint cherry tomatoes, stemmed, each cut in half

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup pine nuts (may substitute walnuts)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

Steps

Combine the tomatoes, oil, basil, pine nuts, mustard and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a blender; puree until creamy and smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender jar as needed. Taste, and add salt if needed.

Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid; use right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition Per serving: 100 calories, 0 g protein, 1 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

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