Friday, April 29, 2011

Twisted Catalina Dressing

My father-in-law never puts salad dressing on his salads, so you could have knocked me over with a feather when he was talking about a restaurant that he and my mother-in-law had been to, and he said he liked the dressing.

I was a little puzzled why he ordered a salad with dressing, but I was even more baffled that he found one that he liked.

When my in-laws took my husband and I to that restaurant for my birthday, I had my chance to sample the dressing. And then it made sense.

This was an Asian restaurant, and there weren't any dressing choices and no mention of salads on the menu. You placed your order and small salads automatically came to the table with the dressing already on them.

So the first time my in-laws went there, my father-in-law was faced with a pre-dressed salad, and he's not the type to send something back. So he ate it, Even more surprising, he liked it.

I was really curious what sort of dressing he'd like, since he never, ever ever EVER ate salad dressing at my house, his own, or in other restaurants. He once said that he used to eat dressings, but he suddenly decided he didn't like them any more.

I expected the dressing to be something really unusual. I mean, if it was a standard dressing, then why wasn't he eating it at home? I was ready for exotic flavors, and what I got was ... okay a little bit different in the flavor combination. But perfectly recognizable.

The first thing that hit me was that it was a lot like Catalina dressing - the bottled stuff. The other flavor, completely obvious to me, was peanut butter. Hmmmm...

My father-in-law likes nuts. All kinds of nuts. The flavor was obvious to me, but no one else picked up on it. So I just said "mmm-hmmm..." as he and my mother-in-law raved about how good and different the dressing was. Meanwhile, I was planning on making the dressing for them the next time we had them over for dinner.

I figured that he would be perfectly happy if I mixed bottled Catalina dressing with some peanut butter, but that wasn't good enough for me. It's been a long time since I've bought any kind of salad dressing, and I wasn't about to start.

So first I had to make Catalina dressing. Then I had to add the peanut butter. Easy peasy, right? Nah. There are a billion recipes for Catalina dressing, and they're all different. Sometimes vastly different.

So I started experimenting and came up with what I thought was a pretty good clone of Catalina, then I added peanut butter until it tasted right. I served this salad dressing on Easter, and my mother-in-law thought it was exactly the same, while my father-in-law thought that it was just a little bit more tart than the original. However, he ate salad with dressing, and even asked for more. I'd consider it a success, although next time I'll sweeten it up a bit more for him.

I tend to like my salad dressings tart rather than sweet, so you might agree with my father-in-law on the level of tartness. If you want it sweeter, add another tablespoon of honey and try again. If you like a super-tart dressing, leave the honey out and add it back in, as needed, after you've blended the oil in.

This is a rather thick dressing - spoonable more than pourable, so it clings well to salads. If you're looking for something thinner, add a bit of water to loosen it up.

Made in the blender, this dressing stays emulsified for quite a while, so you can easily make this a day or more in advance of any event. If it does separate before you use it all, just whisk it before using, or give it another whirr in the blender.

Catalina Goes Nuts

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 cup light-flavored oil (canola, vegetable oil, or even a light olive oil would work)

Put all the ingredients, except the oil, into your blender. (I imagine the food processor would work just as well, but I used my blender.) Turn the blender on to mix all the ingredients. Then, with the blender running, remove the center insert in the blender lid and drizzle the oil in slowly. The mixture will thicken and emulsify.

You could also mix all the ingredient in a jar and shake to combine, but it won't stay emulsified as long.

Serve over your favorite salad greens. This is also a good dip for vegetables or a marinade for meat or poultry.

Note: If the idea of a peanut-flavored salad dressing doesn't appeal to you, just leave out the peanut butter and you'll have regular Catalina dressing.