Slam Dunk Make-Ahead Dips Make March Less Maddening
Pankey, Deborah, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Deborah Pankey Daily Herald Food Editor
Since early humans discovered meat tasted better dunked in another flavoring, whether salt or smashed berries, dips have held a place on our tables.
And while there's probably more than one comparison you could make between Neanderthals and the guys gathered in your living room for round one of the NCAA Championship Tournament, we'll limit the discussion to food.
"Dips are part of social functions; it brings people together," says Bruce Kraig, noted culinary historian and professor at Roosevelt University in Schaumburg.
From the ancient Greeks who dipped their glasses into communal wine krater and 19th-century socialites who served dinner from chaffing dishes to 1950s housewives who stirred soup mix into sour cream, we enjoy the social aspect of gathering around a communal bowl.
"It sounds kinda hokey, but the dip bowl is like the water cooler in an office," says chef Kim Shambrook of Bespoke, a catering and culinary event company in Chicago. Because its eaten in small bites "dip gives the opportunity for conversation; people crowd around them."
And while creamy dips like French onion and spinach have become synonymous with parties, that hasn't always been the case.
"Dips, as we know them, didn't really get started until we had things to dip into them," Kraig says. Once we had Ritz crackers, we had Kraft Music Hall Clam Dip and Lipton Onion Soup California Dip. The 1950s lifestyle of outdoor cookouts and bridge parties increased the popularity of these portable foods.
Today we face March Madness and its myriad games, many of them falling during the week. You want to have people over to watch the DePaul Blue Demons take on Dayton, but with an 8 p.m. start on Thursday you don't have the time to pull together a full party spread for the gang.
A few bowls of hearty dips and a variety of dippers can fill the void.
"There are a number of recipes that can be done ahead of time, and often they're better after the flavors meld," Shambrook says.
The flavors of her taco dip, for instance, deepen when the salsa, cream cheese and spices are allowed to settle together.
Make a double batch, she suggests. Put one out when guests arrive and have the other on the bench (read in the 'fridge) waiting to be put in the game.
"You don't want to overload the dip bowl," she says. "Have the other one ready to go so you can pull it when it starts to look skanky. You don't want it sitting out for five hours."
Great dips help make the party (and ensure you'll be asked to host again), but creative dippers make a statement as well.
Go beyond ridged potato chips and run-of-the-mill tortilla chips. Create your own flavored corn chips, or opt for organic blue chips, Shambrook suggests. Put out pita triangles or imported crackers. For a vegetable tray, think beyond baby carrots and celery, adding jicima strips and cucumber spears to the plate.
While most of the group will be gathered around the TV, they will have to get up occasionally, so place dips strategically around the house to create "conversation pits," suggests Shambrook, a former high school forward who'll be rooting for the Illini.
Spicy Pita Chips
4 pita rounds
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red pepper sauce
1 tablespoon mince garlic
Split pita breads in half lengthwise.
Combine olive oil, hot sauce and garlic in small bowl. Brush mixture on both sides of pitas. Grill pitas over medium heat about 5 minutes or until crispy, turning once. Cut pitas into triangles.
Nutrition values per serving: 143 calories, 7 g fat, 17 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein, 0 cholesterol, 162 mg sodium.
Smoky Eggplant Dip
1 large eggplant (about 1 pound)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons cayenne pepper sauce
2 tablespoons peanut butter or tahini paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Grill eggplant on greased rack over high heat for 15 minutes or until soft and skin is charred, turning often. …