Sources suggested a wide variety of nuts and seeds for the job, but I narrowed it down to cashews and blanched almonds because their pale color and subtle flavor (when raw) would make them easy to hide. I soaked the whole nuts overnight, drained them, and pureed each in a blender for 5 minutes, adding just enough water to keep things moving.
Both purees looked creamy, but the almond one was a bit grainy. I’d proceed with the smoother cashews (for more information, see “Cashews: Cream of the (Nut) Crop”), but first I wanted to see if I could trim down that soaking time.
I wondered if creating more surface area on the cashews for water to be taken in would help, so I roughly chopped them and soaked them for only 3 hours. This yielded a nicely smooth puree, so next I tried finely chopping them and soaking them for 1 hour. Success again—but could I skip the knife work altogether?
My next batch of cashews went straight into the blender, where I let the machine grind them until they looked like fine gravel mixed with sand. Then I transferred them to a bowl, covered them with water, and let them sit for just 15 minutes, after which I drained them in a fine-mesh strainer and returned them to the blender. One minute on low speed and 4 minutes on high turned them smooth and creamy. Time to make dressing.
I started out with a “ranch”-style herb dressing, the simplicity of which would test the cashews’ anonymity. After grinding, soaking, and draining 1 cup of nuts, I returned them to the blender. I added just enough water to enable the mixture to form a vortex while blending; I then added cider vinegar, shallot and garlic, salt and pepper, and a touch of sugar for balance.