When it comes to commercial salad dressings and dips, choose from prepared products or make your own from a mix. Many people prefer the mix for a fresher taste, but powdered mixes have their drawbacks in terms of cost and health. The mixes contain little more than salt and seasonings, so there's no reason you can't make your own version at home.
The Secret to Ranch
Powdered ranch salad dressing and dip mixes find numerous uses in the kitchen. Combine them with milk, cottage cheese or sour cream for tasty salad dressings or dips for vegetables and chips. They can also be used to flavor chicken, sandwich spreads or casseroles and soups. These convenient mixes have a few downsides, though. They're much more expensive than individual herbs and seasonings, and they're not particularly healthy. Three of the main ingredients include salt, maltodextrin and monosodium glutamate. One 1/2 teaspoon serving of the mix contains 135 milligrams of sodium, or 9 percent of the recommended daily allowance.
Mix up your own powdered ranch mix at home to save money and cut down on your sodium intake. If you buy herbs and spices in bulk packages, you'll save even more. Combine three parts buttermilk powder and dried parsley with two parts dried dill, garlic powder and onion powder. Stir in one parts dried basil, salt and pepper. This recipe won't have the bite you taste in powdered ranch dressing because it lacks monosodium glutamate, but it's a delicious, healthier alternative. Buttermilk powder, available in the baking section of most grocery stores, adds a pleasant tang. You can make your own mix in small or large quantities, depending on your needs. Store your homemade mix in an airtight container in a dry, cool, dark pantry. Use it within one year.
If you don't want to make your own mix, you'll find several commercial alternatives. Try seasoning mixes, such as herbes de Provence, lemon pepper seasoning or all-purpose organic seasoning mixes. These mixes are widely available at grocery stores, health food stores and warehouse stores. Most of them are free of monosodium glutamate, but read the ingredient panel because some may be high in sodium. Dill, garlic and onion play starring roles in ranch dressing, so look for a mix that contains those ingredients or add them yourself.
Mixing It Up
Use homemade and commercial substitutes just as you would ranch dressing packets. Combine them in a blender with milk, mayonnaise, cottage cheese and a bit of vinegar to make a refreshing salad dressing. Cut down the amount of milk you use, and you've got a thick dip. Add a bit of mix to breadcrumbs for a breading for chicken or to enliven meatloaf. Although the powdered mix can be stored at room temperature, store any dressings, dips or prepared foods in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and use them within three or four days, recommends the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."