The Nickel Pincher: Make Your Own Mayo and Creamy Salad Dressings

Mayo, ranch, blue cheese, honey-mustard... In the time it takes to buy a bottle at the market, you can whip up fresh, healthy, homemade versions.

July 27, 2011

Spread the joy: Homemade mayo is the base of all sorts of flavorful dressings.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Why dress your fresh local veggies with a tasteless, processed, mass-market spread? Making your own mayo and salad dressings from scratch is quick, it lets you use the healthiest ingredients, and the results taste better than anything that comes in a bottle. Basic vinaigrette recipes abound in most cookbooks, but when you're craving something creamy, such as a ranch or blue cheese dressing, I've got some solutions for you.

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Mayonnaise and mayonnaise-based salad dressings (which is what ranch and blue cheese dressings are) started with the French, but U.S. cooks and sandwich fans have enthusiastically embraced them as our own. However, since commercial shelf-stable mayo was introduced a century ago, most people have forgotten how easy it is to make homemade mayonnaise. Basically, it's just oil blended with egg yolk so that the tiny oil droplets get suspended in the egg and the mixture becomes uniform and creamy (this process is known as emulsification). Once you learn how to make it, your options for sandwich toppings and salad dressings are endless. (By the way, it's easier than you think to make your own ketchup and other condiments, too.)

Basic Homemade Mayonnaise
(makes about 1 cup; double the ingredients if you need more)

Ingredients:

1 whole organic egg, pasture-raised if possible, or 2 egg yolks (see note below)
¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne powder or ground black pepper (optional)
1 Tablespoon vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice
¾ to 1 cup mild-flavored organic vegetable oil, such as canola or grapeseed

Directions:

Combine everything except the oil in small mixing bowl, and beat well with a wire whisk or immersion blender. Add ¼ cup oil and beat well, then continue adding oil one small splash at a time, beating in each addition well, until the mixture becomes thick and creamy. You may not need the full cup of oil—if you add too much, the mayonnaise may get runny and even start to separate. So stop adding oil when the texture is right. Taste, and adjust seasonings as desired.

You can also make mayonnaise in a blender or small food processor. Just drizzle the oil in a steady stream while the machine is running. Serve immediately or transfer your finished mayonnaise to a glass jar with a tight lid (if you're using an immersion blender, save yourself some time, and a dish to wash, by making the mayonnaise right in a glass pint jar). Store in the fridge for up to two weeks; mayonnaise doesn't freeze well.

Miraculous Whip: If that other famous mayo-like spread is your cup of tea, increase the dry mustard to 1 teaspoon and the salt to ½ teaspoon, halve the amount of lemon juice or white vinegar you use, add 2 teaspoons of sugar, and skip the pepper. Hard to beat with cold wedges of iceberg lettuce!

Note: Consuming foods that contain raw egg carries a small risk of foodborne illness. Using only fresh, uncracked eggs, and being sure to always include the vinegar or citrus juice to acidify the mayonnaise, as well as storing the finished spread in the refrigerator, will help to reduce the risk. If you are concerned about using raw eggs (people with immune problems, small children, elders, and pregnant women are most vulnerable), you can pasteurize your eggs first. Chefs commonly used this method, and while it may not be 100 percent effective, it will certainly knock out anything lurking on or in the pores of the eggshell, which is where most nasty germs are likely to be.

To pasteurize whole eggs, place intact eggs in a saucepan of cold water deep enough to have an inch of water over the top of the eggs. Put it on the stove and slowly raise the temperature of the water to at least 140°F, but not hotter than 142°F (you need an accurate thermometer for this). Maintain that temperature for 3 minutes (large eggs) to 5 minutes (jumbo eggs). Cool eggs in cold water and either use immediately or store them in the fridge until needed.

Variations:

The creamy, mild flavor of mayonnaise is the perfect starting point for making other classic and gourmet spreads, so go ahead and experiment with adding other seasonings, either during the initial blending or after the fact. Here are a few ideas to get you going:

Aioli (eye-YO-lee) a.k.a. "Butter of Provence" or garlic mayonnaise: Add 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced, to the initial ingredients. Substitute a good organic olive oil for all or part of the vegetable oil.

Chipotle mayonnaise: Add powdered chipotle pepper to taste.

Cilantro-Lime mayonnaise: Add ¼ cup of minced fresh cilantro to the initial ingredients, and use lime juice rather than lemon juice or vinegar.

Mayo with a bite: Add prepared horseradish or wasabi to taste.

Mayonnaise-Based Salad Dressings

When you look at the dazzling array of salad dressings in the market, you can be sure the majority of the creamy ones were originally made with good old mayonnaise (lord knows how they make them now). It's easy to get back to basics, leave out the artificial and highly processed ingredients, and turn mayonnaise into fresh, tasty dressing to complement any salad, or as a dip for all those fresh summer veggies.

For all of these recipes, combine all ingredients and blend well. For best flavor, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or preferably overnight, before using. Feel free to experiment with yogurt instead of sour cream, and adjust proportions to suit your tastes and needs.

Ranch Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup organic sour cream or cultured buttermilk
1 teaspoon fresh chives, minced or ½ teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced or ½ teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon fresh dill leaves, minced or ½ teaspoon dried dillweed
½ teaspoon fresh garlic, minced or ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon fresh onion, minced or ¼ teaspoon onion powder
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Blue Cheese Dressing

¾ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup organic sour cream
1½ Tablespoons lemon juice
1½ Tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 ounces good blue cheese, crumbled; blend half into the mix, then add the other half after blending for a chunky dressing.

Avocado Green Goddess Dressing
Anything with avocado is tops in my book!

1 cup mayonnaise
1 avocado, peeled and mashed
1 small can anchovies mashed or 1 Tablespoon anchovy paste (optional)
2 Tablespoons chopped green onion
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Shake of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Pinch of dry mustard powder (optional)

Honey-Mustard Dressing
Great for dipping chicken tenders, as well as for dressing salads.

1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup local honey
2 Tablespoons prepared mustard (I like a country-style brown one)
1/3 cup cider vinegar
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Thousand Island Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ to 1 cup of ketchup or chili sauce
¼ cup sweet pickle relish (optional)
1 or 2 finely chopped hard-cooked eggs
2 Tablespoons green onion, minced
2 Tablespoons celery, minced
1 Tablespoon onion, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Russian Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream or yogurt
½ cup chili sauce
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons dill pickles, minced
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Creamy Dressing for Potato Salad
What would summer be without it?

1½ cup mayonnaise (or part mayo, part sour cream)
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar or no-cal stevia
1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Creamy Dressing for Cole Slaw
Ditto!

2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons vinegar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1½ Tablespoons sugar or Stevia
½ teaspoon celery seed
Salt and pepper to taste

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.

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