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Skinny Dipping (sorry, possibly not as exciting as it sounds…)

June 24, 2012

Dips are fun. Dipping things in other things is fun.

When you’re a kid and constantly being berated about your table manners, food that you’re allowed to eat with your fingers, and that is unavoidably a bit messy and uncouth is a big treat. I remember when I was little liking “dippy eggs” with soldiers but not other kinds of eggs – I put this partly down to the joy of eating something called a “soldier”, and partly down to the fact that you couldn’t eat it properly with a knife and fork – you had to pick up the toast with your fingers and dip them in, and get mess everywhere. I also used to really like those little plastic pots you could get with one side with chocolate spread type stuff and the other with biscuit fingers that you dipped in the chocolate spread. This was much more fun than just plain chocolate fingers. I suppose the grown up equivalent of this is the chocolate fountain. (Does anyone remember what those pots were called by the way? Or know if you can still get them? I always found them a bit stingy on the chocolate spread, but the concept is cool).

Chips and dips are also great. They have an amazing ability to turn watching a film at home by yourself into the best kind of Me Party. (What? you didn’t see the new Muppets movie?!!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpE8CdH6fdE ).

It’s a good excuse to eat a lot of crisps, which is something I like to do , although I also enjoy dipping sticks of crunchy vegetables (one of the things that got me through Lent!) . I’m told it can also be a good way to get normally veg-phobic children and adults to eat things like crunchy carrot sticks, cucumber, celery and peppers by making them seem like lots more fun .

I like to have a few different dips at once – the option of dipping carrot and pepper sticks into several different coloured bowls is especially appealing. Also, they look great on a buffet table. Especially if the rest of it suffers from Beige Syndrome. It can’t just be me who looks forward to the buffet at boring meetings all morning and then feels a bit crestfallen when it arrives all the same colour – sausage rolls, samosas, cheap crisps, white bread cheese sandwiches. Beige food is really depressing.

Dips can be bought ready-made of course, and I often do, especially when they’re on yellow stickers in Spar or wherever. Most of the ready made ones are tasty enough, but there is a huge mark-up price wise (it costs about 10p to make the same amount of houmous they sell for a quid in Sainsbury’s for example).

If you make your own you also get to decide what goes in them – useful if you like your salsa mild, or your houmous extra garlicky, or if you just want to experiment with ingredients. Dips are a good way to try out substitutions (using a bean other than chickpeas for houmous for example), or just add extras – like tossing in a new herb. It’s unlikely to go wrong, and even if it does, you haven’t wasted that much time on the experiment.

Having said that, alterations to shop-bought dips are possible too: you can stir a bit of pesto into houmous, or add more chilli to a dull guacamole.

So here are some dip recipes – I do have quite a few (a sort of bastardised baba ghanoush and  a salsa for example), but these are favourites. They’re all easy and quick. If you have a free-standing blender it makes things easier, especially if you want to make a lot – although I’m still drawn to using the handheld blender just for ease of washing up. If you put the ingredients in a high, straight sided bowl it works fine.

Some dips will freeze well – houmous sometimes even improves after being frozen and defrosted. Guacamole, on the other hand, is best made in small amounts and eaten fresh as possible before it turns an unappetising brown colour.

Houmous

Ingredients (divide or multiply amounts depending on how much you want – this will almost fill a normal sized pasta bowl):

A tin of chick peas

Two big spoonfuls of tahini paste

Two to three big spoonfuls of nice olive oil

Garlic to taste (I usually use two big fat cloves, or three smaller cloves)

Plenty of salt and black pepper

Smoked paprika (kind of optional, but I almost always use it)

–          Drain about half the water off the chickpeas, but leave the rest as it will help with blending. Pour the tin into your blender or bowl and add the crushed or finely chopped garlic and the tahini. Blend until you’ve got a bit of a paste.

–          Add your oil, a small amount at a time, and blend it in between each addition until you have the kind of consistency you like (I think fairly thick is good for dipping)

–          Once you’re happy, stir in the salt and pepper, and your paprika to taste.

–          If you want to add other things then do, some ideas I’ve successfully tried are: tomato puree, chopped fresh chives, dried oregano, parsley, honey or brown sugar, chopped spring onions, nutritional yeast, pesto, truffle oil or other flavoured oils, barbecue sauce, leftover fajita spices, fiery chilli sauce, and peanut butter. I’ve also done a cooked version where I sautéed the garlic and heated all the other ingredients in the pan before mixing, to serve warm. Do tell me if you have any other good ideas!

–          Obviously the same principles behind making houmous can be applied when replacing the chickpeas in the recipe with any other kind of canned bean (pinto beans, black beans, cooked lentils – whatever – some work better than others, but I think that’s a matter of taste more than anything. Even if it’s not great as a dip, most are good spread on toast or in a sandwich). The next recipe is sort of doing that, but it’s tasty enough to warrant a recipe in its own right ….

Cannelini  bean and almond dip (trust me, this is lovely!)

  Ingredients:

A tin of cannelini beans

A few spoons of tahini (or indeed, leftover houmous)

Olive oil as above

Garlic (you’ll probably find you want less for this, I think one clove is enough)

About three tablespoons of ground almonds

Lots and lots of fresh chopped rosemary

A teaspoon of honey or a couple of pinches of sugar

Salt and pepper

–          Half drain the beans as above, and add your garlic and tahini, and blend well, until it’s quite a smooth paste. Then add your ground almonds and the honey/sugar and blend again to a slightly thicker smooth paste.

–          Stir in oil. I think this dip is best quite runny, but it’s up to you. Blend again until you’re happy, then mix in lots of rosemary and salt and pepper.

–          This is great as it is, but if you have the time and inclination, try toasting the almonds and garlic first. It’ll be even nicer. This is best served with warm pitta bread.

 

 

Austin’s Guacamole

This is my boyfriend’s most famous recipe. People are disappointed if he turns up at a party without a bowl of it. The ingredients seem pretty changeable but basically:

2-4 Ripe, soft avocadoes

Salad cream

Lots of lemon juice (about 2 tbsp minimum)

Chilli flakes and/ or Tabasco sauce

6-8 finely finely chopped cherry tomatoes or peppers

Salt and pepper

Pinch of mixed herbs, oregano or anything dry and green you have in the house

Couple of finely chopped spring onions, peppers – whatever salady veg you have available.

–          Put the lemon juice in the bowl first. This is important to help keep the colour. And use quite a lot – 2 tbsp is minimum.

–          Squeeze the avocadoes out of their skins, chop them up and quickly drop them into the lemon juice before they have a chance to even consider going brown. Mash them up with the back of a fork or spoon.

–          Add your other ingredients and mix them in well. Austin uses around 2 tbsp of salad cream, which gives a nice consistency, but also makes for quite a sweet flavour, you may prefer to use less. Obviously the level of heat from the chilli or Tabasco is up to you as well. Make sure you mix it in well so that you don’t have small areas of the bowl with intense heat and others with none. Best served with tortilla chips, but also nice with veggy sticks.

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