Dips for dinner

Delicious hummus provides a blank canvas for cooking creativity

Whether you're worn out from yard work or looking for a breezy meal to welcome in the warm weather, these dinner-worthy dips are as nutritious as they are tasty. They all keep well in the fridge for three to five days, making them perfect for meal prep. They're economical as well. Homemade hummus costs half as much as the prepared stuff from the grocery store and is a blank canvas for culinary creativity. Enjoy it simply flavored with garlic and lemon or throw in some berbere-roasted carrots or a roasted beet for an added pop of color and flavor.

click to enlarge Dips for dinner
Traditional hummus, herbs hummus, beetroot hummus and lentils humus.
Whipped ricotta is one of my favorite low-key yet fancy-looking dishes to make for a party or just a luxe afternoon on the patio. Drizzled simply with good olive oil and a scattering of fresh herbs, it's delightful when smeared on a slice of crusty grilled baguette. A drizzle of verdant pea and asparagus pesto takes the dish to another level while adding visual interest, vegetable nutrition and bright, spring-infused flavors. The recipe was originally created by my Mom to toss with orecchiette pasta. This recipe makes more than you'll need for the whipped ricotta. Use the leftovers to toss with pasta, as a sandwich spread or dollop onto a deviled egg. It can also be frozen for up to two months although it will lose some of its bright color.

Homemade veggie cream cheese is obviously delicious on a toasted bagel, but it can also elevate a slice of avocado toast or even be used as a filling for a quick omelet. Allowing the diced vegetables to macerate with a little sugar and salt helps to pull out excess moisture that would otherwise make the spread too loose. Feel free to get creative with different veggies as they come into season such as summer squash, jalapenos and sweet corn.

Hummus

2 cloves garlic, peeled

¼ teaspoon salt

1 15 ounce can chickpeas, preferably organic

Juice of one lemon

¼ cup tahini

3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the garlic is finely chopped. Drain the chickpeas, reserving 1⁄4 cup of the liquid, and add them to the garlic in the food processor along with the lemon juice. Process until smooth, then add the tahini and olive oil and continue processing until creamy. Add reserved chickpea liquid as needed to achieve the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Colorful variations:

• Beet hummus. Add two roasted and cubed beets, garnish with chopped pistachios.

• Roasted red pepper hummus. Add ½ cup diced roasted peppers and 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary.

• Spinach and artichoke hummus. Thaw 10 ounces frozen spinach and squeeze it as dry as possible before pureeing, adding it to the chickpeas along with ¾ cup drained artichokes.

• Charred scallion hummus. Trim the bottoms off 12 scallions (green onions) and coat them lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then grill over high heat until slightly softened and charred. Allow to cool before pureeing them along with the chickpeas. Serve with whole wheat pita and cut vegetables.

Whipped ricotta with herbs and spring vegetable pesto

2 cups whole milk ricotta (or substitute whole milk cottage cheese)

8 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Zest and juice of one lemon, divided

1 cup frozen green peas

1 cup diced asparagus

2 cloves garlic

¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted and cooled

½ cup freshly grated parmesan

Finely chopped chives and mint, to garnish

Place the ricotta, olive oil, lemon zest and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor and puree until creamy and smooth. Transfer the whipped ricotta to a shallow serving dish and rinse out the food processor.

To make the pesto, bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil and have ready a bowl of ice water. Add the peas and asparagus to the boiling water and cook for two minutes, then drain and add to the ice bath. Drain again and reserve cup of the blanched peas and asparagus, then add the remaining vegetables to the bowl of a food processor along with the garlic, nuts, Parmesan, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Spoon or drizzle the pesto over the whipped ricotta. Garnish with the reserved vegetables and minced herbs. Serve with grilled bread and cut vegetables.

Veggie cream cheese

1 large English cucumber

1 carrot

½ red bell pepper, finely diced

¼ cup finely diced red onion

1 teaspoon each salt and sugar

2 eight-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

3 tablespoons Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons each minced parsley and chives

¼ teaspoon

Slice the cucumber in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds, then grate it on the large holes of a box grater. Peel and grate the carrot. Combine the grated vegetables along with the diced red pepper, onion, salt and sugar. Let sit for 15-20 minutes to allow the salt/sugar to draw the moisture out of the vegetables, then rinse with cool water in a mesh strainer. Roll up the rinsed vegetables in a paper towel and squeeze them dry, then combine them in a bowl with the softened cream cheese, sour cream, herbs and black pepper and mix well. Transfer to a container and chill for at least an hour and up to 3 days.

Ashley Meyer

Ashley Meyer has been cooking as long as she has been walking. The daughter of beloved former Illinois Times food columnist, Julianne Glatz, Ashley offers a fresh, inspired take on her mother’s culinary legacy. Ashley studied winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand and recently achieved the...

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