Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ok, I confess

I really love ranch dip. I always have- even in kindergarten, when my introduction to the stuff came from school cafeteria lunch. That really says a lot, huh? That's got to be the only thing I remember liking enough at school lunch to come home and ask a) what it was and b) could we have it. I may have had trouble describing it, since it is totally unlike any food substance I had ever encountered up until that time. It was white. It had specks in it. It was not milk, cheese, or yogurt. It was not sweet, not sour, not oily or watery, but a little bit of all those things, and since I didn't learn the word umami until college, I didn't have the vocabulary to say just what it was that made me want it. Except that from my chinese-traditional-diet perspective, it was deliciously unusual. Exotic, even, but not in a nasty way like everything else to be found at school lunch. I don't remember what I ate it with, probably a spoon. Possibly carrot sticks, but I doubt it, because I hated carrots in any form until high school, or nearly. I bet I was that awful weirdo who licked ranch dressing off her carrot sticks. Yow. In my defense, when the first americans were introduced to sushi there had to have been some incidents that would cause any japanese person to shudder. Same kind of situation, right? It's damned peculiar stuff, you can't figure out what it is by looking at it, it doesn't come with instructions because everybody else assumes you know what to do with it, so you just kinda put your tongue on it to see if you like it.

I remember mom saying "Oh. Well that's just ranch dressing," in this disparaging why-do-you-want-that tone. She may even have asked me what I wanted to do with it, because for one thing, salads were not usually eaten in our house, and for another, chinese salads do not go with ranch dressing.  Like, AT ALL. I thought the name was stupid, it made no sense to me since there were no ranches anywhere on earth, as far as I could tell- I was six. But I wanted ranch dressing anyway.

Later I became disaffected with ranch flavor. It was on everything from shrink wrapped deli trays to wings and pizza. (Pizza!?? Seriously? Bleagh...) Not only had it become ubiquitous, but it had lost any trace of food-like characteristics. There is nothing to recommend Hidden Valley and its ilk except that they have fat and salt in them, and such a whacking great dose of preservatives and additives that it is doubtful that they are capable of spoiling. And most recipes for making your own call for heaps of sour cream and mayonnaise, and buttermilk, 2 out of 3 of which, I don't keep around. Even worse are the recipes that call for opening a package of sour cream, and dumping in a pre-mixed packet of dehydrated adulterants.

But, I still get ranch dip cravings. Especially in the summer when I don't want to cook anything, but I still want to eat things that have fat and salt in them. Plus, I have acquired a taste for raw carrots and cauliflower as an adult, which are ideal media for consuming ranch dip. While I no longer lick dip off my carrots, I will admit to eating a spoon of this by itself. Maybe two. They were little.

Ranch Dip Fix

1 cup full fat greek yogurt. For this, you really need greek style yogurt. Fage is best, it's mildest.

Fresh herbs, minced. I used:
4 mint leaves
2 large basil leaves
a 3-inch sprig of tarragon
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
4 or 5 small oregano leaves
a 2-inch piece of rosemary
half a dozen chives

salt &pepper
dash of cayenne

secret ingredients:
a tablespoon of good quality olive oil
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of garlic powder

The olive oil improves texture and sugar balances the tartness of the yogurt. The powdered garlic is key, though. You may think, well, isn't fresh better? In this case, no. Garlic powder has a mellow sweetness to it, unlike the bitey quality fresh garlic can have, and it doesn't give you quite as persistent a case of garlic mouth. Being strongly against garlic mouth, for a long time I tried to do without garlic altogether, until I read that the sulfur compounds in garlic will accentuate the taste of protein and fermentation in the yogurt, creating a more deeply satisfying flavor profile. Garlic powder: another of the 20th century's small miracles.

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