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DO THE DIP It's not just about chips and sour cream anymore. You can plunge into hot, cold, sweet or savory delights. Here's the scoop on the nearly endless choices.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the early days of dips, every party had the requisite pairing of potato chips and Lipton's Onion Soup mix in sour cream. Now, with so many dip and dipper options, the chips/soup-mix combo is the exception.

Dips come hot, cold, sweet, savory, low-fat or unspeakably fattening, and they're paired with everything from apples to zucchini.

To help with your spring entertaining, we've rounded up a slew of dips ranging from light and herby to rich and desserty. We even threw in a couple of baked casserole dips. Plus, there are spreads and fondues -- close cousins to dips.

Picking just one could be difficult. But why limit yourself? Let guests nibble their way through an all-dip extravaganza.

SAVORY DIPS

Artichoke and Parmesan Dip

In a food processor, blend the following until smooth: 1 drained (14-ounce) can of artichokes, 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 clove of garlic mashed with a pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1 chopped scallion. Add hot pepper sauce to taste. Serve with French bread slices or pita chips.

Baba Ghannouj

Roast a medium-size eggplant in a 450-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, turning once, or until flesh is very tender and a sharp knife pierces without resistance. When cool enough to handle, remove peel. In a food processor, mince 1 clove garlic. Add the eggplant flesh, juice of 1 small lemon, 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Process to blend (may be smooth or a little chunky). Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve with fresh or toasted pita bread.

Basil Pesto Dip

Blend basil pesto from the supermarket deli case with 1 cup cottage cheese, 1 cup light sour cream and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese in a food processor. Serve with small bread sticks or vegetables.

Beer-Cheese Fondue

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add 1/2 small, finely chopped onion and saute until soft. Add 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon hot-pepper sauce and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder. Reduce heat to medium-low and add 1 1/2 pounds sharp Cheddar cheese spread, a little at a time, allowing cheese to melt after each addition. Gradually add 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese and enough beer to thin dip to desired consistency (about 1/2 to 1 cup).

Serve in a fondue pot or bread bowl. Serve hot as a dip or at room temperature as a spread with bread cubes, crackers, new potatoes, vegetables or sausage pieces. To facilitate dipping, offer bamboo skewers.

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

This dip substitutes black-eyed peas for traditional chickpeas.

Drain and rinse 1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas. In the bowl of a food processor, mince 1 clove garlic. Add the beans, 1 heaping tablespoon tahini (sesame paste) and the juice of 1 small lemon. Process until smooth. If mixture is not creamy enough, add 1 tablespoon of warm water or a little olive oil until desired consistency is reached.

Green Goddess Dip

Combine 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 3/4 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 4 finely minced anchovies in a bowl. Mince 1/4 cup parsley and 1 clove garlic and add to dip. Thinly slice 2 tablespoons each green onions and fresh chives and add to dip. Add 2 teaspoons dried tarragon (or 2 tablespoons fresh) and salt and pepper to taste. Combine well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving with vegetables or chips.

Low Country Shrimp Paste

This is an easy dip if you buy your shrimp already cooked and peeled.

In a blender or food processor, chop shrimp. Blend in enough mayonnaise to moisten (1/2 to 3/4 cup). Stir in 2 tablespoons each grated onion, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to blend flavors. Serve with buttery crackers or water biscuits.

Mexican Layered Dip

Buy canned bean dip and guacamole from the supermarket. (Guacamole may be found in the deli case, produce aisle or frozen.) Spread bean dip in the bottom of a casserole. Top with guacamole, light sour cream, salsa, grated Cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes and chopped red onion. Serve with tortilla chips.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Dip

Roast, peel and seed 3 red bell peppers (or use imported bottled red peppers). Set aside. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon olive oil over 5 cloves of garlic (peels intact) and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Bake until cloves are soft, about 40 to 60 minutes. Cool. Squeeze the soft garlic cloves from their peels into a blender or food processor. Add the roasted peppers and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin. Puree. Stir in 2 tablespoons light sour cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for up to 3 days. Serve with vegetables or pita chips.

Roquefort Walnut Spread

Chop 1 cup of toasted walnuts. With an electric mixer, blend 1 (8-ounce) package softened cream cheese with 1/4 pound Roquefort cheese. Add enough cream to give mixture a spreading consistency (2 to 3 tablespoons). Add nuts and mix to combine. Serve with apple and pear slices, grapes and crackers.

Yogurt Cheese Dip and Spread

To make the yogurt cheese, drain 16 ounces of nonfat yogurt in a coffee filter-lined colander set over a bowl in the refrigerator overnight. Combine with one of the following combinations:

Basil, jalapeno or sun-dried tomato pesto (purchased from the supermarket) to taste. Use as dip for vegetables.

2 tablespoons chopped nuts, 1 tablespoon chopped mint, 1 teaspoon grated orange or lemon peel, 1/2 teaspoon honey, 1/4 garlic clove, mashed, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Refrigerate for up to 3 hours; serve at room temperature as a spread for toasted bread. Accompany with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and olives for optional toppings.

SWEET DIPS

Brie and Strawberry Spread

Frost a wheel of brie with 3 ounces of strawberry cream cheese spread. When ready to serve, bring to room temperature. Serve with gingersnaps or imported wheat crackers.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Dip

In a heavy skillet over low heat, toast 1/2 cup skinned hazelnuts (buy them bottled), stirring frequently, until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Set aside. In a heavy medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to a low boil. In a medium bowl, place 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate and immediately cover with the cream, stirring until chocolate is melted. Stir in nuts. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve cold or warm with fresh pear slices, bananas or cake cubes.

Mascarpone-Rum Raisin Spread

Soak 1/4 cup raisins in hot rum to cover until plump and softened, about 30 minutes. Fold raisins into 8 ounces mascarpone cheese and serve as a spread with plain cookies or bread.

Sweet Ricotta Spread

Mix 1 (16-ounce) container of ricotta cheese with 1 teaspoon grated orange peel, 3 tablespoons finely chopped chocolate and 1 tablespoon honey. Use as a spread for sliced bread from the bakery (from sliced baguettes to brioche or chocolate bread), vanilla wafers or chocolate wafer cookies. For a variation, substitute chopped pistachios or walnuts for the chocolate.

QUICK DIPS

Creamy Green Sauce Dip

Mix equal parts light sour cream with canned Mexican green sauce or chilies. Serve with vegetables or tortilla chips.

Salsa Cream Cheese Spread

Mix 3 parts softened low-fat cream cheese with 1 part bottled picante sauce or salsa. Spread on bread or crackers.

The Basic Pita Chip

Preheat oven to 325 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment (or foil). Start with 4 pitas; split each in half horizontally into 2 rounds. Brush the insides with 1/2 teaspoon melted butter or olive oil and a sprinkling of seasoning, such as Parmesan cheese, sesame seeds or mixed herbs. Cut each round into 8 wedges and place, seasoned-side-up on baking sheets. Bake until crisp and brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly; serve warm or store in airtight container.

Edible dip bowls

When serving dips, don't limit yourself to bowls. Consider hollowed out vegetables, fruits and round breads. To make a bread bowl, buy a round loaf of crusty bread from any bakery that sells European style fresh bread. It may be pumpernickel, wheat or sourdough. Other natural vessels can be made by hollowing out cabbages, colored bell peppers, winter squash, pumpkins, pineapple halves or melons.

DOUBLE DIPPING

Few people can stop at just one dip. But for hygiene's sake, don't re-dip the cracker or carrot that you just took a bite of.

Not only is it unappetizing for those who witness your faux pas, it's also unhealthy.

"You can transmit all kinds of things that way," says physician Elizabeth Polanco, "particularly the stomach flu, hepatitis A and some of the diarrheal illnesses."

Resisting the urge to double dip is common sense, says the internist. "Do you share your eating utensils? Do you share your drinking glass?"

We hope not. But the potential for germ sharing is the same whether double dipping or passing your fork around. Still, some people don't see themselves as disease carriers when confronted with an oversized scooper and a big bowl of dip.

One anonymous party animal confesses to double-dipping when no one's looking.

"But I dip the end (of the chip or vegetable) that hasn't been bitten from."

That would be the end of the dipper that your hand covered the first time you swiped it through the dip -- still an unhygienic move, according to Polanco.

Here are some things hosts can do to discourage double-dippers:

Put serving spoons with dips; guests can plop a big pool of dip on their plates and double-dip to their heart's content.

Offer smaller dippers that can be easily coated with one plunge into the dip. Slice zucchini into rounds instead of long wedges and cut pita bread into eighths instead of fourths. Some supermarket delis sell 2-inch to 3-inch bread sticks.

Ultimately, everyone's on the honor system. Tell them you read it here: No double-dipping.

DIP GUIDE

The following dips are quick and easy: Artichoke and Parmesan Dip, Basil Pesto Dip, Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Green Goddess Dip, Low Country Shrimp Paste, Roquefort Walnut Spread. The quickest dip: Mexican Layered Dip.

The following dips are reduced-fat: Baba Ghannouj, Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Roasted Red Bell Pepper Dip, Yogurt Cheese Dip and Spread.

These dips are so rich they could be dinner: Beer-Cheese Fondue (served with skewered new potatoes, sausage and bread), Low Country Shrimp Paste, Mexican Layered Dip (served with tortillas, chips and vegetables).

Pub Date: 5/06/98

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