Dip into the holidays with these tasty spreads

Dips and spreads can be made in big batches and served on demand. (Vinnstock/Dreamstime/TNS)

Potlucks, cocktail parties, family gatherings and happy hours all require noshes and nibbles as well as libations. Now’s the time to make a plan.

This year, I’m diving into dips and spreads, the kind that are ready in minutes, can be made in big batches and served on demand. It helps, too, if they can be repurposed into sauces for meats and roasted vegetables or spreads for sandwiches, flatbreads and pizzas — and they’re perfect for dressing up leftovers.


For the most flavorful dips and spreads, look to the sunny cuisines of the Mediterranean. They’re bright with warm spices and comprise everyday ingredients you probably already have on hand. Based on contrasting flavors, colors and textures — sweet, tangy, spicy, creamy — these three dips taste surprisingly complex.

Take hummus, a beloved staple throughout the Middle East (and ubiquitous in the United States). It shines when made from scratch using freshly cooked dried beans (garbanzos are great, but any dried bean will do), plus plenty of good oil and quality spices. Give it a colorful finish with chopped herbs and spices.

Greek yogurt is the perfect base for dips that showcase freshly grated vegetables — cucumbers and fennel — whisked with garlic and fresh herbs.

Pair those dips with the brilliant red pepper and nut spread known as the Moroccan dip muhammara and they balance each other, like three legs of a stool.

To serve, spread these dips on bruschetta, or set them out with chips and toasted pita. Be sure to tote them to the next gathering; they make a nice start to a dinner party and can complete the holiday buffet tables of artisan breads, farmstead cheeses, cured meats, dishes of olives and nuts.

Three, two, one: Let the countdown to the season of fun begin.

Fresh Hummus with Lemon and Garlic

Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

The key to this hummus is to cook the dried beans yourself; canned varieties just don’t taste as good (see directions below). A handful of nuts gives heft to the body of this spread. Serve in a pretty bowl garnished with a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of za’atar. Store leftovers in a covered container for up to 2 weeks. From Beth Dooley.

• 1/2 c. shelled roasted unsalted pistachios or cashews

• 2 tsp. ground cumin

• 2 tsp. ground coriander

• 2 tsp. za’atar, plus more for garnish

• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp. dried

• 3 1/2 c. cooked or canned, drained chickpeas or any dried bean (see directions below)

• 1 clove garlic, smashed

• Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1/2 c. tahini

• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

• 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste

• 1/2 c. bean stock or water, or more if needed


Put the nuts, cumin, coriander, za’atar and oregano into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process to crush the nuts. Add the beans, garlic, pinch of salt and pepper, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice and begin pulsing, gradually adding the bean stock or water, a little at a time, until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a bowl and serve with a swirl of the oil and sprinkle of the za’atar.

To cook the dried beans: Put 1 cup of beans into a pot, add enough water to cover by 4 inches and let soak overnight. Drain the beans, add enough water to cover the beans by 4 inches. Add 1 small carrot, 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 5 sprigs fresh parsley, 2 bay leaves, 5 peppercorns. Set the pot over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the beans are tender, about 40 minutes to 1 hour, checking periodically. Remove and allow to cool. Save the cooking liquid (it makes a wonderful soup stock.)

Red Pepper and Hazelnut Spread

Makes about 3 cups.

This zesty bright red spread is inspired by muhammara, a beautiful Moroccan spread traditionally made with walnuts, roasted red peppers and pomegranate molasses. This version relies on local hazelnuts that have a rounder, toastier flavor. A small roasted red jalapeño adds heat; adjust it to your taste. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. From Beth Dooley.

• 2 1/2 lb. red bell peppers, sliced in half and seeded

• 1 small red jalapeño, or other small chile, sliced in half and seeded

• 1 1/2 c. hazelnuts or walnuts

• 2 tbsp. pomegranate molasses, to taste

• 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

• Chopped parsley, for garnish


Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set the pepper halves on the paper, cut side down. Broil the peppers until the skins blacken and char, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, remove the skins. Spread the peppers on a paper towel to drain. Cut a few of the peppers into thin strips for garnish and set those aside.

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, grind the nuts with the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper, until smooth. Add the roasted peppers and oil and process until smooth. If the dip seems too thick, pulse in a little water, a tablespoon at a time. Serve the dip with a swirl of olive oil and chopped parsley and a garnish of the reserved roasted red pepper strips.

Fennel, Cucumber and Yogurt Dip (Tzatziki)

Makes about 3 1/4 cups.

Cool and tangy, this balances out the spicy red pepper dip and is wonderful drizzled over roasted vegetables and lamb kebabs. Store in a covered container for up to 1 week. From Beth Dooley.

• 2 small Persian cucumbers, peeled and seeded

• 1 medium fennel bulb, finely grated, about 2/3 c.

• 1/2 c. fennel fronds

• 1 tsp. orange zest

• 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 to 3 tsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste

• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• Generous pinch freshly ground pepper, to taste

• 2 c. whole milk Greek yogurt

• 1 tbsp. finely chopped spearmint, for garnish


Grate the cucumbers into a strainer set over a bowl. Press to remove as much liquid as possible.

Transfer the cucumbers to a medium bowl and stir in the fennel, fennel fronds, orange zest, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pepper and the yogurt. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Serve garnished with the chopped spearmint.

Beth Dooley is the author of “The Perennial Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.

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