My kid, like just about any kid, has a thing for ranch dressing. It’s an American classic, and I love it too – all creamy, rich with herbs and a touch of garlic and hint of acidity. I’m into it, and so is he.
When he makes his lunch, one of his favorite things to add to his lunchbox (P.S. this is the reusable lunchbox he uses) is carrot sticks and a little container of homemade ranch dressing to dip them in.
The thing is, I want to make a dressing that not only tastes good, but also makes our bellies feel good too – one that avoids the laundry list of ingredients found in store-bought dressings like soybean oil, MSG and high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients. Instead, our is made from homemade mayonnaise, milk kefir (which conveys many benefits), extra virgin olive oil, and fresh herbs. It’s simple, easy and nourishing.
Kefir is a Powerhouse
Milk kefir is a nutritional powerhouse. It is rich in beneficial bacteria that support gut health, and is strongly anti-inflammatory, and when you make it from the milk of grass-fed cows or goats, you enjoy the additional benefit conveyed by healthy fats like conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids. There’s a beautiful synergy that exists within kefir as it is rich in beneficial bacteria, and it’s those same bacteria that can outcompete pathogenic bacteria which is why researchers are investigating it’s role in addressing salmonella, h. pylori, and staph infections (read it here and here).
Homemade Kefir Really Is Better
The kefir you find in grocery stores is more closely akin to thin, drinkable yogurt than it is to milk kefir. Store-bought kefir is still rich in beneficial bacteria, like any cultured milk; however, it lacks the rich diversity of homemade, traditional kefir. Store-bought kefir is produced with a commercial starter culture (incidentally, you can buy similar powdered cultures here); by contrast, homemade kefir is prepared the traditional way, using kefir grains, and this makes a big difference.
To make traditional milk kefir, you add milk kefir grains to a jar, top them with fresh milk and wait. Milk kefir grains, like kombucha mothers, are a SCOBY – or a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts. They contain a wide variety of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that come together to eat up the naturally occurring sugars in milk, transforming milk from sweet and fluid to tart, slightly thick and faintly effervescent. Store-bought, commercial kefir lacks microbial biodiversity of traditionally prepared kefir made from real kefir grains.
As those beneficial yeasts and bacteria eat the lactose in milk, they produce beneficial acids, which are responsible for kefir’s tart flavor; moreover, they also produce B vitamins, like folate, a nutrient critical to women of reproductive age for its ability to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
Where to Find Kefir Grains (And How to Make It)
To make kefir, you’ll need kefir grains and you can either purchase them live here or dried here. From there, it’s as simple as dropping the grains into a jar, covering them with milk, and letting them sit, do their work and culture that milk. All in all, it takes about a day, then you strain away the grains, bottle the kefir and use it as you like. You can get full instructions on brewing here, or in my first cookbook The Nourished Kitchen which also includes many other recipes for cultured foods.
- 1 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade (get the recipe here)
- ½ cup milk kefir
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I use this kind.)
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
- 2 teaspoons dried chives
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley
- ¼ teaspoon dried dill
- ¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- Spoon the mayonnaise into a mixing bowl, and then whisk in the kefir and olive oil. When the oil and filmjolk are completely integrated into the mayonnaise, whisk in the onion and garlic powders, salt, herbs and dried parsley. Taste it, and adjust seasoning as necessary to suit your preferences.