Ridiculously Easy Vegan Buttermilk Salad Dressing

by on October 5, 2010
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Ridiculously Easy Vegan Buttermilk Dressing

The question I get asked most by people who are just beginning to follow an oil-free diet is “If you don’t use oil, what do you put on your salad?”  Frankly, getting used to salads without olive oil can be difficult, though I do believe you can train your taste buds to enjoy salads without oil if you add enough flavor to them. It’s not enough just to remove the oil from any old salad dressing; you have to replace it with a liquid that will dilute the power of the vinegar in the dressing, add some body so that the dressing isn’t watery, and add flavor.  Here are a few of my tips for making fat-free but tasty salad dressing.

Ridiculously Easy Vegan Buttermilk Dressing

Tips for converting an oily dressing into an oil-free one:

  • If you don’t mind a sweeter dressing, replace the oil with orange juice or other fruit juice.
  • Try replacing the oil with vegetable broth plus one of the thickeners below.
  • Replace the oil with water, but double the herbs and spices and add a thickener.
  • Add a thickener. Some people add xanthan or guar gum, which can be tricky to use, but I prefer using ground flax seeds or chia seeds, both of which form a gel when combined with liquids. Chia seeds have the advantage of not needing to be ground first, and their lighter flavor and appearance (if you use the white chia) make them better for dressings. And both are great sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Start with a teaspoon per cup of dressing, blend well (with a blender, if you like), and allow to stand until thickened. Add more if necessary to achieve the thickness you desire.
  • Add dijon or coarse-ground mustard.  A couple of teaspoons per cup of dressing will add zing without being overwhelming.
  • Add a little nutritional yeast for a richer, more savory flavor.
  • Blending in just a small amount of higher-fat ingredients such as nuts, olives, or avocado can give flavor and body to your dressing without a lot of fat–as long as you don’t overdo it.
  • Be careful with raw garlic, which can easily overpower your dressing if you use too much of it.  Naturally dehydrated granulated garlic or garlic powder is a good alternative for infusing a dressing with garlic flavor with less risk of “garlic burn.”

    Susan's   Goddess Dressing

    Susan's Lite Goddess Dressing

  • Fresh is best for herbs, but if you’re using dried, allow time for the leaves to rehydrate and the flavors to blend.  Most fat-free dressings will taste better after chilling for a while.
  • Experiment with different vinegars: balsamic, red wine, and white wine are standard, but fruit-flavored vinegars such as raspberry, fig, or blood orange can add a different dimension to your usual salad dressing.
  • It’s surprisingly easy to make a creamy dressing low-fat.  Just substitute silken tofu for mayonnaise and vegan yogurt instead of buttermilk.  You can also make your own soy buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of soymilk and let stand until curdled.
  • If you absolutely cannot stand oil-free dressing, try reducing the amount of oil a little at a time, using some of the replacements suggested here.
  • There’s evidence that some fat helps your body absorb the nutrients in salad.  Rather than use oil, which has been stripped of all nutrients but fat, I recommend adding nuts, seeds, or avocado to your salad. I eat walnuts every day for the Omega 3′s (as well as the taste).


What are your tips for making oil-free dressings? Let me know in the comments.

Here’s an easy, creamy dressing that I threw together in just a few minutes.  I used a salt-free seasoning, Mr. Spice House, as a short-cut to avoid having to measure many different herbs.  You can use any combination of herbs you like, adding more to taste as you go.  Though the percentage of calories from fat in this recipe is what I would call higher-fat (over 15%), notice that the overall number of grams of fat is low (about 1) and a serving is 3 tablespoons, instead of the 2 tablespoons that most bottled dressings call a serving–great for those of use who like a lot of dressing on our salads!

Ridiculously Easy Vegan Buttermilk Salad Dressing

Ridiculously Easy Vegan Buttermilk Salad Dressing

(printer-friendly version)

This easy recipe is very versatile.  My husband likes to drizzle it over steamed broccoli, while I spoon it over baked potatoes instead of margarine.

1/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
1/2 cup plain soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 – 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (start with 1 tbsp. and add more to taste)
1 teaspoon salt-free seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash or Mr. Spice House
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 small clove garlic
1 green olive
1/2 teaspoon chia seed (optional, for thickness)
salt (to taste)

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add salt and additional seasonings to taste. Chill until ready to serve. Stir before serving.

Servings: 4 (about 3 tablespoons per serving)

Nutrition Facts

Nutrition (per serving): 26 calories, 9 calories from fat, 1.1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 17.5mg sodium, 73.5mg potassium, 2.7g carbohydrates, 1.3g fiber, <1g sugar, 1.8g protein, 0.4 points.


More Salad Dressings:


On another note:

I try to keep this blog focused on food, but recently I got the chance to talk about myself with Nikki Jong at menuism.comCheck out the interview.

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Debbie stevenson October 5, 2010 at 11:28 am

I use 2 heaping tbsp of no tahini hummus
2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar white
And 1/2 tsp mustard mixed

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2 Melissa October 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

This is a great post! I love Balsamic Vinegar and used to just use that straight on salads until I realized it was a bit too harsh. I’m not really too set on using olive oil anyway to cut the sharpness of it. Do you think that citrus would go well and still cut away some of the bitterness?

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3 Jennifer October 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Thanks Susan! I love all of these ideas! My favorite salad dressing is to buy a fresh tomato or mango Pico de Gallo salsa (think chunky) and add that to the top of my salad, then drizzle a little seasoned rice vinegar on, with salt & pepper to taste. I almost always put fresh raw corn in my salads, and the starch mixed with the tomatoes and vinegar is so lovely! This was my standard lunch all summer!
http://passthepotatoesblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/red-leaf-lettuce-with-roasted-corn-pico.html

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4 Jenny Wright October 5, 2010 at 1:19 pm

This is exactly what I’ve been searching for to make my lovely winter salads with. It looks divine! I shall be making this for my lunch tomorrow!

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5 JL Goes Vegan October 5, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Oh, that dressing looks lovely! Just the kind of dressing I like! Thank you!

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6 Mary (What's Cookin' with Mary) October 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Putting this recipe in my ‘make me’ pile! I really, really like buttermilk dressing, but this recipe sounds so much more healthful. Thanks for another great one Susan!! I’m all about the oil based dressingings, so this woul be a nice change.

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7 Shannon October 5, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Thank you for posting this.

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8 Molly October 6, 2010 at 12:37 am

I’m a total cheat when it comes to dressings – I use the Walden Farms brand products religiously. Love them! However, Susan, your Smoked Paprika dressing that went with the asparagus recipe is awesome! I’ve made it several times.

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9 Laloofah October 6, 2010 at 3:21 am

What a great post – I love some of your ideas and those of your readers!
We enjoy just freshly-squeezed lemon juice and tamari on our salads. No body, but lots of flavor… and we put so much “schtuff” on our salads (lots of herbs and various veggies, dulse leaf, black olives, hemp, chia and pumpkin seeds, and a few nuts of one variety or another – and some avocado now and then) that we’ve never missed the texture or taste of oil. Now and then I’ll use Walnut Dressing instead, but my husband always prefers the lemon juice and tamari. That will likely change when he finds out about your Smoked Paprika dressing though! :-)

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10 Laloofah October 6, 2010 at 8:07 am

P.S. I enjoyed reading menuism’s interview with you! I’d missed seeing it mentioned on my earlier bleary-eyed insomniac visit. :-)

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11 SusanV October 6, 2010 at 9:07 am

Thanks! I tacked it on at the end and wasn’t sure if anyone would see it. Glad it caught your eye!

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12 Laloofah October 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Me too!

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13 Margaret October 6, 2010 at 8:24 am

Great post. I will be linking to it!! I’ve been making low-fat salad dressing with chia seeds for years. For more information about chia seeds, and some recipe ideas, check out my website: http://www.chiativity.org

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14 Joanne October 6, 2010 at 9:13 am

Very interesting dressing recipe. I’m such a salad queen, I’ll have to try it.
It might be worthwhile to note, that a little olive oil doesn’t hurt. Our bodies need healthy oil/fats to transport the nutrients from the healthy foods we eat, such as salad greens. People should fear healthy fats. They keep our joint, bones, bodies in general healthy.

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15 SusanV October 6, 2010 at 10:06 am

Healthy fat, yes, but olive oil is not a healthy fat. As I mention in my post , you can get all the fat you need by adding whole foods like nuts and seeds to your salad, not processed oils.

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16 Tom October 6, 2010 at 9:27 am

My favorite salad dressing is from Rip Esselstyns book.
3 T balsamic vinegar
2 T dijon mustard
1 T maple syrup or agave
splash of water, perhaps some pepper.

I like my own fruit vinegrette.
I use any fruit.. peaches, raspberries, blueberries etc etc….. some red wine vinegar or raspberry vinegar, a small shallot, dash of maple syrup and some pepper.. Vitamix it up. and its awesome! :)

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17 VEGirl October 6, 2010 at 11:44 am

ohhh.. that looks great! Sounds yummy over potables (I am a spud freak! LOL).
VEGirl

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18 Nitram October 6, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Does anyone know where to get unsweetened soy yogurt? Every “plain” soy yogurt that I find is sweetened. Drives me crazy!

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19 Suzi October 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Apple Valley has plain unsweetened soy yogurt in Mishiwaka Indiana and in Berrien springs, Grand Rapids, Battle creek in Michigan

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20 Jill October 6, 2010 at 2:38 pm

That dressing looks delish! Just proves iit can be done, with just a little creativity!

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21 jd October 7, 2010 at 2:14 am

Thanks for all of the great dressing tips! Your buttermilk version looks delish!

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22 whatiwore October 7, 2010 at 10:10 am

Wow, this does indeed look easy! I’m excited to try this.

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23 moonwatcher October 7, 2010 at 11:28 am

Hi Susan,

Thanks for this great post about salad dressing options. It reminded me of your smoked paprika dressing, which, at the time I could not try, since I didn’t have anyy of that magic stuff. Now I do!

Right now I’ve been alternating between your Lite Goddess Dressing (since I still have fresh parsley and green onion tops in the garden), and a version of an Asian Dressing I found on the PCRM web site with their “Asian Persuasion” coleslow recipes. I mention it for those who like ginger. It’s mostly seasoned rice vinegar, apple juice concentrate, tamari or say sauce (to be gluten free I use tamari), grated ginger, and garlic. (I use shallot due to sensitivity to garlic.)

To your point about raw garlic being too strong, a nice substitute is a little bit of fresh shallot. It’s milder, sweeter, and goes well with any fruit and mustard, too.

Another standard Essylstyn recipe I tweaked in that direction is seasoned rice vinegar, a little dijon mustard and then I use minced shallot instead of garlic, and about a teaspoon of raspberry fruit spread or jam.

I look forward to trying this buttermilk dressing. To add a green olive seems inspired to me.

Happy salad eating to all of us!

xo

moonwatcher

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24 Robert October 7, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Hi Susan: As you said above, some oils are good–especially hemp oil and flax oil. These oils are high in omega-3s and 6s. Hemp has the ideal omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil has the highest ratio 3s to 6s (5:1 ratio). Here’s a recipe from Brendan Brazier’s “Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide” that I like. You can play with this by adding lime or lemon juice or a dusting of cayenne pepper.
Cucumber Dill Dressing
4 cloves garlic
2 cucumbers, peeled
1/2 cup hemp oil
4 tsp dried dill/4 tbsp fresh)
black pepper & sea salt to taste
Blend all ingredients together in a Vita-Mix or other high speed blender.

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25 Christine October 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Hi Susan! I am excited to make more of my own dressings, and this looks like a yummy place to start :) What would you substitute for the soy yogurt if you have a soy sensitivity? I think So Delicious makes a plain coconut milk yogurt, do you think that would work? Sometimes I think those yogurts taste too “coconutty” but that’s because I don’t like coconuts :)

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26 SusanV October 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I haven’t tasted a plain coconut yogurt, so I don’t know. I’m inclined to think it would be too sweet as well as coconutty. I’ve used blended white beans in dressings to thicken them up, and I think it tastes pretty good, though more gritty than with tofu. You could give it a try and see what you think.

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27 SusanG October 11, 2010 at 3:16 am

Hi Susan,

Thanks so much for this post! Figuring out how to do salad dressings has been one of my biggest hindrances for not being more fully compliant on ETL. Right now I’m working my way through some commercial, high fat vegan dressings that are delicious, but….

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28 LizLivingVegan October 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm

I’ve been looking for a good vegan salad dressing. This looks like a great place to start! I bet the combinations/options are endless!

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29 kay greenwalt October 20, 2010 at 1:08 pm

http://www.kozlowskifarms.com/

Oh, my gosh, the BEST oil free salad dressings ever!!! I love their honey mustard and their raspberry poppy seed the best!

Kay

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30 JoethekitchenContractor October 21, 2010 at 11:24 am

I’m sure you mentioned it somewhere but I cant find it but how long does this salad dressing keep?

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31 SusanV October 21, 2010 at 11:32 am

I wouldn’t keep it longer than a week because it starts to look unappealing after then. I haven’t tasted it, though, so I can’t say how it would affect you!

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32 Tracey October 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm

I am supremely lazy, and I like a shot of sweet and tangy with my salad, so I usually just put a dollop of sweet pickle relish on it. It has the tangy “vinegar” taste so I feel like I’m not just eating lettuce, but there’s also the sweetness AND it’s very convenient. One other nice thing is that sweet relish is available at most salad bars, so you don’t have to go without just because you’re at a non-vegan eatery!

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33 April from Kitchen Blender Reviews October 21, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Hi Susan: Thanks for so many great tips on fat-free salad dressings. I am not a big salad eater, mainly because it’s the dressing that makes it for me! And, I won’t buy dairy or oil based dressings. :) So, I like my greens cooked or blended.

I will have to try this buttermilk dressing and a salad for dinner. Maybe this will get me motivated to plan my meals around my salad.

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34 Clare October 23, 2010 at 12:18 am

Thank you! These are the first truly creative ideas for low-fat salad dressing that I have seen in ages. I hope I can find the chia seeds–what a great way to incorporate extra omega-3′s.

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35 Laina April 23, 2011 at 12:44 am

Hi Susan,

I don’t have green olives and don’t want to purchase a jar for just one recipe. What would you substitute? Miso maybe? Black olive? A dill pickle slice?

Also, if I can’t find plain soy yogurt would you substitute tofu?

Thanks so much!

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36 SusanV April 23, 2011 at 9:32 am

Laina, all of those substitutes for the green olive sound good–just pick the one you like best. And I think you can use silken tofu instead of the yogurt, maybe with a little extra lemon juice added. Hope you enjoy it!

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37 Nikki November 15, 2010 at 4:00 pm

This looks great, but I have trouble with soy. Is there anyway to make this recipe soy free and vegan? Thanks

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38 Katelyn January 1, 2011 at 8:40 pm

while it is no fatfree, it is oil free. my favorite dressing is tahini mixed with lemon juice and some tamari with water added to thin it out. Sometimes I add garlic powder and chili powder.

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39 Bianca October 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I’ve been using Konjac powder for a thickener. no calories… Just need a very small amount and a blender. It’s magic

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40 Diane Robuck February 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Dear Susan,
I am so glad I found your site. Tomorrow I will go to have a heart cath. I had a heart attack in 2010 at age 60. I have researched vegan for years off and on. My husband, married daughter and son in law and myself have committed to six months. Actually my husband and I will probably be on for life(hopefully a long one).
Your site is interesting, your photography is great, and I can’t hardly wait to get started on your recipes. I was glad to see you live in Mississippi and in Jackson! I have been to Terry many times over the years and have friends there. We live in Jemison, Alabama.
I just wanted to say “hi” and let you know I have enjoyed what I have seen and would love to correspond some time with you. Thank you again.

Kindly,
Diane Robuck

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41 Susan Voisin February 2, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Hi Diane, I will be thinking of you and hoping that your procedure tomorrow goes well. Good luck on your new vegan diet. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Susan

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42 Diane Robuck February 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

Thank you Susan. It was more serious than we expected. The front artery of my heart(in a man it is considered the “widow maker”) was 95% blocked. It shook up the doctor who wasn’t expecting it and neither was I! Anyway my husband is definitely on his band box now:). So keep the vegan coming! Also would you let me know where the page is that had your pantry and freezer inventory? Thank you……….Kindly, Diane

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43 Susan Voisin February 6, 2012 at 11:20 am

I’m so glad that they caught it in time! I hope your recovery is going smoothly.

The pantry post is right here: http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2012/01/ridiculously-easy-vegetable-gumbo-and-cooking-from-your-pantry-and-freezer.html Just let me know if there’s anything else you need.

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44 Margi May 31, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I enjoy plain lemon juice over my salad but you can also blend it with an avacado for extra taste and any combo of herbs.

My favorite though is a nice homemade salsa poured over my salad. Love it.

For the non-vegans..try fat free cottage cheese seasoned the way you like.

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45 Janet Vandenabeele June 14, 2012 at 9:54 am

Thanks for this! I have to cut out my extraneous fat intake and cannot abide store-bought fat free dressings. They taste fake and are always too sweet and watery. Yuck. Plus, I absolutely ADORE The Spice House. I’ve never tried their Mr. Spice House blend, but I will now.

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46 Richard August 12, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Are Walden Farm products considered to be Vegan?

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47 Susan Voisin August 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Some of them may be “accidentally” vegan, but looking at their web page, I see blue cheese and egg whites are used in some products. Plus, on their Special Diets page, no mention of dairy-free or vegan diets is made at all.

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48 Livie Leonard December 8, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Unexpectedly, the local Grocery Outlet sported unsweetened soy yoghurt. Time to try out this recipe. It turned out even better than expected. I used Trader Joe’s “21 Seasoning Salute” spice mixture, almond milk, replaced the green olive with capers, and added caramelized garlic. I have not been able to find chia seeds so I left those out. The dressing turned out splendid, especially after putting it in the fridge for a while to let the flavours develop. I am pretty sure that the nonvegans in the family will be easily fooled in believing that this is a dairy/cheese based dressing :).

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49 Grandpa Ron December 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Hi, Listmom, I have a question. The split pea recipe with cauliflower looks great and want to try it. However my pressure cooker blew it’s stack all over the kitchen (cleaned most of the lenils up but not off the ceiling – who look at the ceiling anyway?).
You posted a lentil recipe and recently and said you never tried it in a slow cooker, so since my pressure cooker went to that great gourmet in the sky to serve, any idea how to adapt this to slow cooker? No need to publish my ramblings. We old coots do that. Just email me and have a great and amazing Christmas.
Much love and love much,
Grandpa Ron

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50 Priya Yallapantula March 5, 2013 at 11:10 am

wow, loving this dressing. I recently learnt about chia seeds. Using so far in juices and made a pudding (recipe is on my blog). I would love to try this dressing next.

When I make it, I am going to post it on my blog and refer to your site. Hope that is ok :)

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51 Kim October 4, 2013 at 11:47 am

Just made it and I have to say this is delicious!!! I used plain almond yogurt (oh how I miss Whole Soy yogurt.) I added a little tarragon because I have recently become a tarragon-addict! Thank you for the suggestion to put it on a baked potato. I am always looking for better ways to flavor potatoes.

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52 Wendy Cromwell October 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I just discovered the joy of hummus on my baked potato!

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53 Wendy Cromwell October 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm

My favorite oil free dressing is balsamic vinegar, water, mustard, agave, and whatever herbs strikes my fancy. Love the sweet/sour taste and never once have I missed the high fat dressings.

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