Summer party? Take a dip

Daniel Neman

With the heat of summer coming, it’s time to take a dip.

That is, it’s time to bring a dip to a summer picnic.

You could stir a packet of dried onion soup into a tub of sour cream, of course. It’s delicious, but everyone would know exactly how much effort you spent on them (none). You could buy a tub of hummus, but that involves even less effort — and isn’t it kind of an insult to your family and friends essentially to say, “I love you, but not enough to go to any trouble for you”?

This year, make your own dip. It’s fun, it tastes great and it shows you care enough to mix the very best.

And the cool thing is, you can even make your own version of that ever-popular dried onion soup dip. Your friends and family will know it’s not the instant version because its taste is richer. Rounder. Fuller.

It only takes a minute or two longer to make than the one that you open the package and pour.

All you have to do is assemble the dried ingredients: minced onions, onion powder, black pepper, sugar, dried parsley (or fresh parsley) and the secret ingredient, beef bouillon granules. Just mix them together, add sour cream and stir — just like the old way of making it.

The next dip I made also was familiar, baba ghanouj. If you’ve never had baba ghanouj, think of it as a more sophisticated version of hummus.

The difference is eggplant. Baba ghanouj, which also is from the Middle East, uses grilled eggplant instead of chickpeas for its main ingredient. The grilling gives it a smoky flavor that appeals to a lot of people.

But not me. When I made the eggplant-based dip, I simply roasted the vegetables in the oven instead of grilling them. That did the trick. Now it had that unmistakable flavor without being overwhelmed by the smoke.

If you miss the smoke, you can always sprinkle in a little smoked paprika.

My next dip takes the flavors of Mexico and gives them an Asian vibe. Hipster chefs might think that mashing together Mexican and Asian cuisines is the newest trend on the planet, but they need to know that Daniel Boulud came up with this recipe in 1993 — before some of the younger hipster chefs were even born.

Now one of the most acclaimed chefs in the world, Boulud introduced the recipe in his first book, “Cooking with Daniel Boulud.” Avocado dip with sesame seeds is essentially guacamole (though without the garlic) mixed with a taste of dark sesame oil and topped with toasted sesame seeds.

The result is a more complex version of guacamole. The darkly mysterious sesame oil plays wonderfully off the brightness of the avocado and lime.

You might think it wouldn’t work, but it absolutely does.

My last dip, like baba ghanouj, was from the Middle East. Muhammara is perhaps more of a spread than a dip, but that amounts to nearly the same thing. Besides, it is wildly delicious.

Muhammara (the word means brick, because it is about the same color) is made from roasted red peppers and walnuts pureed together with olive oil into a coarse paste. But there is more to it than that: a pleasant bite from chopped scallions, the lively acid of a dash of lemon juice, the enjoyable heat from crushed red peppers and the indispensable depth of cumin.

Plus one more ingredient: pomegranate molasses. If you’ve never had it, pomegranate molasses is just about the best thing ever; it’s tart, but it’s enlivened with a little sweetness.

You can buy it for a couple of bucks at a Middle Eastern store or an international food market. I usually try to avoid writing about ingredients that require a special trip, but pomegranate molasses is a happy exception.

Once you’ve used it to make muhammara, you’ll want to try it in everything — salad dressings, drinks, meat glazes, vegetable glazes and more. Or maybe you’ll just want to hoard it to make nothing but muhammara.

It’s just that good.

Homemade Instant Onion Soup Dip

Yield: 6 servings

4 teaspoons beef bouillon granules

2 tablespoons dried minced onions

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh parsley

16 ounces sour cream

Combine the seasoning ingredients in a small bowl and set aside until ready to use. Place the sour cream in a medium bowl and stir in the dip mix. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour, and up to 1 day. Serve with potato chips and crudites.

Per serving: 160 calories; 15 g fat; 9 g saturated fat; 39 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; no fiber; 330 mg sodium; 90 mg calcium

— Recipe by the Daring Gourmet

Baba Ghanouj

Yield: 10 servings

2 or 3 medium eggplants (about 3 pounds total)

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup tahini

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 lemons, juiced

Salt and pepper

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika, optional

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub the outside of each eggplant with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and place them in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet. Roast the eggplants until the skin has charred and the interior is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Peel and seed the cooked eggplant. Roughly chop the flesh and then transfer it to the bowl of a food processor.

3. Into the processor add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, along with a few teaspoons of cold water. Process the mixture to a coarse paste, adding a bit more water if needed to allow the mixture to blend.

4. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and add optional smoked paprika for a smoky taste. Serve with wedges of pita or crudites.

Per serving: 103 calories; 8 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 9 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 9 mg sodium; 38 mg calcium

— Recipe by David Kamen of the Culinary Institute of America, via Epicurious

Avocado Dip with Sesame Seeds

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 red bell pepper, split lengthwise, stem and seeds discarded

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

3 ripe avocados (about 1 pound), peeled, pitted and cut into chunks

Juice and zest of 1 lime

2 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1 tablespoon shallots, finely chopped

4 springs cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped

8 drops Tabasco sauce


1. Preheat the broiler. Place the pepper halves under the broiler skin side up. Broil them until the skin turns black, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the peppers from the heat, let cool, wash the skin off under cold running water and pat dry. Finely dice the roasted pepper and set aside.

2. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat or under the broiler, tossing often for 1 to 2 minutes until golden, and set aside.

3. Mix the avocados, lime juice and zest, sour cream, sesame oil, shallots, cilantro and Tabasco with a fork in a bowl. Add salt to taste.

4. Scoop the dip into a shallow serving dish or bowl. Shape the dip into a rounded dome with a fork and sprinkle the top with the toasted sesame seeds. Arrange the red pepper dice in a ring at the base of the dome. Serve with tortilla chips, country bread, cold, grilled chicken wings or as a dressing with steamed shrimp, lobster or stone crab claws.

Per serving (based on 4): 214 calories; 19 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 4 mg cholesterol; 3 g protein; 13 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 8 g fiber; 56 mg sodium; 29 mg calcium

— Recipe from “Cooking with Daniel Boulud,” by Daniel Boulud

Muhammara (Red Pepper and Walnut Spread)

Yield: About 6 servings

1 large red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped scallions (3 to 4 scallions)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

3 teaspoons pomegranate molasses, divided, see note

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, divided

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted

4 to 6 tablespoons bread crumbs

Note: Pomegranate molasses is available at Middle Eastern markets and international food stores.

1. To roast the pepper, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the pepper on a foil-covered baking sheet and cook 25 minutes, or until charred all over. Place in a closed paper bag or wait a couple of minutes and wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap. After 15 minutes, the skin will come off easily in your fingers. Remove and discard the stem and seeds.

2. Combine pepper, scallions, lemon juice, cumin, salt, 2 teaspoons of the pomegranate molasses, 1/2 teaspoon of the crushed red pepper, 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and all but 2 of the walnuts in a food processor and puree until mostly smooth.

3. Add 4 tablespoons of the bread crumbs and pulse to combine. If mixture is too loose to hold its shape, add the remaining bread crumbs and pulse again. Season to taste with salt and crushed red pepper.

4. Scrape into a bowl and make a well in the center with the back of a spoon. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the remaining 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes in the well. Crush the reserved walnuts between your fingers and sprinkle over the top.

Per serving: 249 calories; 22 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 3 g protein; 12 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 373 mg sodium; 39 mg calcium

— Recipe adapted from The New York Times