Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Homemade dips can provide healthy option for guests

December 11, 2002

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— Homemade dips can be just as tasty as bought ones, and better healthwise, for holiday entertaining or family nibbling any time.

Party dips are popular offerings during the holidays, but commercial varieties may be high in fat, calories and sodium, and comparatively low in health-protective ingredients, the American Institute for Cancer Research says.

To help make holiday snacks and appetizers healthier but still tasty, the institute has created some low-fat, vegetable-based dips that can be freshly made at short notice from ingredients easily kept on hand.

"Vegetable-based dips full of the flavor of herbs, spices and other seasonings offer many health-protective features," says Melanie Polk, AICR's director of nutrition education. "The cancer-fighting antioxidant power of herbs and spices can be as great as that of fruits and vegetables."

Polk recommends pairing the dips with cutup vegetables and whole-grain crackers. Ingredients in these colorful, festive and healthful appetizers include chickpeas, spinach, tomatoes and garlic, which are all high in nutrition and cancer-fighting qualities.

The following recipes are especially suitable for the holidays and entertaining, and they're different from the usual store-bought type.

Each reflects a different regional ethnicity - Southwest American, Indian and Mexican :quot; with a rich and slightly exotic flavor. But despite their distinctive taste, they are spiced lightly enough for everyone to enjoy.

Santa Fe Sunset Dip
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Two 7-ounce jars roasted red peppers, drained
3 ounces (1 package, or about 30) sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, or to taste
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped scallion
4 ounces reduced-fat Neufchatel cream cheese, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tabasco or hot chili pepper sauce, if desired, to taste

Soak dried tomatoes in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain well, reserving 3 tablespoons of the soaking liquid. In a food processor, puree red peppers, tomatoes, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, cilantro and scallion until smooth and well-blended. Add cream cheese; puree mixture, adding enough of the reserved tomato-soaking liquid to thin the dip to the desired consistency, and scraping down the side of the bowl occasionally. Blend until smooth. Add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Adjust seasoning, adding more garlic, cumin or lemon juice if needed. Transfer to a container with a cover. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.

Bring dip to room temperature before serving. When ready to serve, transfer dip to an attractive bowl and place in center of a large serving platter. Surround with assorted cutup vegetables and, if desired, baked tortilla chips, and serve.

Taj Mahal Dip, which gets its green color from spinach, is shown
served with assorted cutup vegetables.

Taj Mahal Dip, which gets its green color from spinach, is shown served with assorted cutup vegetables.

Makes 2 1/3 cups.

Mexicali Dip
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1 cup canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
Salt and white pepper, if desired, to taste
Tabasco sauce, if desired

In a food processor, puree chickpeas with sour cream, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice and mayonnaise until smooth. If dip is too thick, gradually add additional teaspoons each of sour cream and mayonnaise, just until right consistency is reached. Transfer to a container with a tight lid. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce, if desired. If time is not a constraint, cover and refrigerate 24 hours before serving.

Bring dip to room temperature before serving. When ready to serve, transfer dip to an attractive bowl and place in center of a large serving platter. Surround with assorted cutup vegetables (carrots, different colored bell peppers, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini spears, sliced jicama) and, if desired, baked tortilla chips or whole-grain crackers.

Makes 1 cup dip.

Taj Mahal Dip
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2 teaspoons curry powder, according to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin, according to taste
9-ounce microwavable package of baby spinach leaves (uncooked), or 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
3/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, if desired, to taste

In a small, nonstick skillet, stir curry and cumin over medium-low heat just until fragrant, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer spices to a bowl. Combine spinach, sour cream, yogurt and garlic in a food processor and blend until spinach is pureed and mixture is smooth. Add one-third of the curry mixture and blend in. Add more of the curry mixture, to taste. Process until well-blended. Season to taste with salt, pepper and pepper sauce. Transfer to a container with a cover. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.

Bring dip to room temperature before serving. When ready to serve, transfer dip to an attractive bowl and place in center of a large serving platter. Surround with assorted cutup vegetables (carrots, different colored bell peppers, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini spears, sliced jicama) and, if desired, the thin Indian crackers called pappadams, or other, preferably whole-grain, crackers.

Makes about 2 cups.

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