Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.com
If you live in Utah, you might be a fan of this Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing!

Every place has its own food culture, and if you live in Utah, Cafe Rio is a big part of that culture. I've loved Cafe Rio's creamy tomatillo salad dressing since the first time I tried it, and years ago my brother-in-law Kelly gave me a recipe for Cafe Rio Dressing, Chicken, and Rice, which I posted on my then brand-new food blog. All of those recipes are definitely copycat versions of the true Cafe Rio recipes, but the dressing does taste just like the famous creamy Cafe Rio dressing. I've made this so many times through the years it feels like it really needs to be added to the category for Recipe Favorites on the blog!

This is simple to make, but I'm including the photos so you can see how the dressing looks every step of the way. Back in 2007 an anonymous commenter left the tip of roasting the tomatillos before using them in the dressing. I've tried it both ways several times, and still feel that the roasting step is completely optional. I love the slightly sharp tomatillo flavor that makes this so good, so when I have lots of tomatillos in my garden, I sometimes increase the number of tomatillos and decrease the amount of buttermilk a little in the ranch dressing. With all the variations I've tried, I can honestly say I've never had a bad batch of this. Enjoy!

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.comTomatillos are a plant ingredient that's often used in Latin American cooking, and they taste somewhat similar to green tomatoes. They come with a paper husk, which is removed. For this dressing I use 2-4 tomatillos, depending on how big they are.

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.comIf you're trying the version with roasted tomatillos, cut them up and roast for 15-20 minutes in a 400F oven. Watch them, and remove when they start to get barely browned.

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.comThe recipe uses two cups of Ranch dressing, which I confess I usually make with this packaged mix. I prefer the buttermilk version, but I'm sure the type made with milk will also work. You can also make your own Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing or Buttermilk Dressing to use as the base for this.

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.comWhichever version you're using, mix up two cups of Ranch dressing in a small bowl. (If you're using the package mix, it will seem thin because the dressing needs to chill for an hour or so. If you want to increase the amount of tomatillos, remember to put a little less buttermilk or milk in the dressing.)

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.comRemove large stems from the cilantro, wash and spin dry or dry with paper towels, then finely chop it in the food processor.

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.comAdd the tomatillos, garlic, lime juice, and Green Tabasco sauce or jalapeno pepper and process about 30 seconds, until ingredients are finely pureed.

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.comThen add the 2 cups of Ranch dressing and pulse a few times, just until ingredients are well combined. Chill dressing for an hour or two and serve!

Cafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing found on KalynsKitchen.comCafe Rio Style Creamy Tomatillo Salad Dressing
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups of dressing, recipe adapted from a recipe for Cafe Rio Dressing, Chicken, and Rice that I got from my brother-in-law Kelly. See after the main recipe for variations I've tried.)

2 cups prepared Ranch Dressing (I usually use a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch buttermilk mix, but you can make your own Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing or Buttermilk Dressing if you prefer)
1 small bunch cilantro, large stems removed (about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro)
2 large or 4 small tomatillos
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
2 T fresh lime juice
1 tsp. Green Tabasco sauce or 1 diced jalapeno pepper

Prepare Ranch dressing according to directions on the package or recipe you're following and set aside.

Remove large cilantro stems, then wash leaves and spin dry or dry with paper towels. Add cilantro to food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until finely chopped. (If you don't have a food processor, I'd chop all ingredients well by hand and then blend dressing in a blender.)

Add tomatillos, garlic, lime juice, and Green Tabasco or chopped jalapeno to the food processor and pulse until ingredients are finely pureed. Add the 2 cups of prepared dressing and pulse just a few times, until ingredients are well combined. Chill dressing for an hour or two and serve.

~To make a roasted tomatillo dressing, dice tomatillos, place on a baking sheet, and roast at 400F for 15-20 minutes before adding them to the food processor.
~If you'd like even more tomatillo flavor, use 4-5 large tomatillos and decrease the buttermilk or milk in the Ranch dressing by about 1/4 cup.

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South Beach Suggestions:
This would be a great salad dressing for any phase of the South Beach Diet, especially if you used reduced-fat mayo to make the Ranch Dressing. I often use this dressing on a salad with leftover roast chicken, which makes a great low-glycemic meal.

Since tomatillos are an unusual plant ingredient, I'm submitting this to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Anna's Cool Finds. Anna has some Utah roots, so I think she may appreciate the recipe. If you're cooking with an interesting vegetable or fresh herbs, check the Rules for Weekend Herb Blogging to see how to participate.

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  1. You are my hero! This is one of my all-time favorite dressing. I'm so excited to make this at home.

  2. I love Rio. I always get their veggie salad with a whole wheat tortilla. Yum!! Thanks for the recipe!

  3. This sounds fabulous! Our tomatillo plants are growing like crazy this year so I'm always on the lookout for more recipes to use them up.

  4. Looks great! I still have never cooked with Tomatillos. How long do you figure this would keep in the fridge?

  5. I notice the Utah people are weighing in! (Cookin' Canuck and Maria are Utah food bloggers. Go check out their blogs!)

    Kristina, I have volunteer tomatillos and they're going wild!

    Katerina, mine usually doesn't last very long, but I'm guessing it will keep at least 2 weeks in the fridge. Tomatillos are great!

  6. I had salad last night and was wishing for some yummy dressing. I wish I would have some of this. What a great recipe!

  7. It just so happens that the daughter half of Fab Frugal Food is visiting the mother half in Utah this week - now we're torn. Do we go to Cafe Rio to satisfy the craving you've just awakened? Or do we make some of this ourselves?

    Or BOTH?

    Dilemmas, dilemmas . . .

  8. I hope we get tomatillos here this year (there's worry that we won't because of the tomato blight). And when we do, I can't wait to make this tart, creamy dressing!

  9. I love tomatillos. I live in Dallas and there are some fantastic hispanic grocery stores that bring in loads of tomatillos, and at a great price. I've never put them in a dressing but it sounds great.

    Once I started making my own dressings, I vowed to never buy store-bought dressings again.

    I appreciate the valuable information about different options. I learn so much - thank you.

  10. Oh yum! I can't find tomatillo here in Bangkok but once I'm back in Canada (next month) I'll be sure to try this dressing! Cheers!

  11. This morning at the bank, a friend asked me what to do with the motherlode of tomatillos that appeared in his garden last week. I suggested he give them to a friend (me)! Now I know what I will do with them -- this dressing sounds delicious.

  12. I'm off to Sprouts for tomatillo's at this very moment. This looks wonderful and will be great with some grilled salmon & a salad. Can't wait! Thanks Kalyn for sharing.

  13. This looks DELISH!!! I'm trying it tonight. I love tomatillo salsa and this sounds like a fabulous dressing!!

  14. OMG! that looks like a spicy version of a green goddess! I am on it!

  15. Very unique dressing! would like to try making it! tq

  16. We've been on a try out new salad dressing kick in our house. I am definitely adding this one to try!

    It was fantastic meeting you this past weekend, Kalyn. Can't wait to see you again soon!

  17. Beautiful color! We don't see many tomatillos on suburban Long Island, so I may need to do some hunting in NYC.

  18. That looks and sounds amazing!


  19. That looks like an absolutely fabulous salad dressing! Pretty easy to make too! I can't wait to try this out. Now I would just have to search for the tomatillos :)

  20. We visited Utah last week & my only MustDo thing on my list was Cafe Rio. We accidentally ended up with salad dressing on our tray & may I just say that I am in love. I used it for a chip dip! Now I am thrilled to know how to make it.

    And I appreciate knowing how to cut lettuce. THanks for all you do!

  21. The recap is published, it's always great to see your WHB posts!

  22. Thank you so much! I've looked for Cafe Rio recipes in the past and couldn't find what I was looking for: the dressing, the chicken, and the rice. I happened to google it again and found your recipes for all 3 of my favorite things at the restaurant! We recently moved out of Utah, so it was a like a little miracle that I found your awesome recipes! I just wanted to say thank you and that your recipes were great, I tried them all and it was almost like we were eating the real thing!

  23. Erin, you're welcome! So glad you liked the recipes. No idea where these recipes actually were printed when my brother-in-law found them, but I think they're pretty close, especially the salad dressing!

  24. I am Addicted to Cafe Rio and the real reason why is there house dressing. I glad you were able to decode their secret recipe. I tried it but I kind of just eyeballed the measurements of the ingredients and it turned out good but not cafe rio good. Thanks a lot tough, next time Ill try to be a little more precise.

  25. I love your Blog! I'm a Cafe Rio fan too!

    I was living in SLC for a few months but now I come back to my country, Spain. I miss Utah so much, but unfortunately I cant go there now...

    I love to cook ,and If you are interested in Spanish recipes, please, let me know!!
    I will be happy to swap recipes with you!

    Thaks for your blog!

  26. Yes, I can imagine there is no Cafe Rio in Spain. I don't really have time to individually swap recipes with anyone, but if you have an idea for a Spanish-inspired recipe that's South Beach Diet friendly you can send it to me through the e-mail at "how to contact Kalyn" and I'd love to try it out.

  27. You can be sure I will. I'll take a look in my personal recipe book!
    Regards from Spain!

  28. so glad to have come across this (and to see you're in utah too!) I have been wanting to make it for a while!

    -Krystal @ recipesofacheapskate.blogspot.com

  29. Krystal, I've been making it for years and loving it!

  30. I've always loved "homemade" Buttermilk Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. Can't stand it from the bottle, but mixed from the packet, it's absolutely delicious. That combined with cilantro, tomatillo, and Tabasco Jalapeno sounds so good I think I'll make it for dinner tonight! Also, when I come visit, I want to check out Cafe Rio :-)

  31. I love this dressing! I have a recipe that looks identical as far as the ingredients, but everything is just dumped into a blender together, including the Ranch dressing components, blended, and then chilled for a couple of hours.

  32. Nicole, that's just how I feel about Ranch dressing too. You MUST go to Cafe Rio if you're in Utah!

    Julie, that sounds easy and good!

  33. I love the color of this dressing, and the simplicity. I can see all kinds of uses for it along with my favorite Mexican chicken salad.


  34. Thanks Kristi. It is good on lots of different things. I really like it as a dip for sugar snap peas!

  35. This dressing looks amazing! This may seem like a strange question, but can I use anything to replace the tomatillos?? I've never seen them in our stores & would imagine them to be expensive as they are not "normal" around here. (in BC, Canada)

  36. Leigh, I can't think of anything you could use instead of tomatillos, but they do come in cans. I think they are pretty widely available year round. Maybe try Latin market if you have one of those.

  37. I love, love, love this dressing. I got pregnant after moving out of Utah, and was craving Cafe Rio salads painfully. My question is; how long does this keep in the fridge? Not that I expect it to go uneaten for long, but just in case.

    Thank you!

  38. This will stay good a little over a week in the fridge.

  39. Would you get the same taste, if I was being lazy and bought green salsa and added it to the ranch dressing?

  40. Regina, honestly I don't know how that would taste. It might be close if you added the cilantro.

  41. Well, I've seen tomatillos on rare occasion in grocery stores but never had the slightest clue what to do with them. If I ever see them again, I'll get a few and then revisit this recipe.

  42. One Thanksgiving I made an all Southwestern meal, which included a side dish of sweet potato enchiladas topped with tomatillo sauce. This is definitely a creamier version of what I made, but it's still a fabulous combination. And, you could add turkey to the enchiladas!

  43. Mimi, great idea; thanks for sharing!


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