Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Simple Greek Dips

Say "Opa!" to These Cool Summer Starters

Have you ever made hummus, or does it seem like an unnecessary use of precious kitchen time? Hummus is not exactly exotic anymore, and there are a myriad of delicious versions available everywhere. It’s a cinch to pop open a plastic container and spread it on pita bread, pretzels, veggies or sandwiches. It is probably safe to say that prepared hummus has even become a staple food in many of our kitchens. In my mind, this means it is time to pull out the food processor and whip up a homemade batch of the healthy chickpea dip. After all, those little 7 oz. plastic containers cost $2.69 at my grocery store and they are always running out of the Scallion and Spicy Three Pepper flavors that are my current favorites. And since I eat so much of the stuff, it would be nice to know it is made from the best quality ingredients. Recently, I tried my hand at homemade whole wheat pita bread from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food. They were light and airy, puffing up just right when I baked them in a 500 degree oven on a parchment paper-covered pizza stone. I figured, if I could handle fresh bread, I could certainly come up with a serviceable hummus to go with it.

Since having a particularly good appetizer platter with about 6 different dips at a little Greek restaurant in Toronto, I have been wanting to try some of them myself, especially hummus. Anything with eggplant is a favorite, so I decided to make baba ghanouj, as well as a dip I have never had before with carrot, mint and thick, creamy yogurt. The yogurt dip is from Diane Kochilas’ beautifully photographed, highly inspirational book, Meze. I often flip through the pages of Meze looking for appetizer ideas, but I do not cook from it nearly often enough. Kochilas lives in Greece and does an excellent job of conveying the spirit and importance of meze in Greek culture. You can almost detect the flavor of anise on your lips as you read it. I decided to make a meal of these dips (with pita bread of course), along with a spanakopita casserole.

You can prepare all three dips in an hour or so. Fit your food processor with the shredding disc and do your carrots first. Then the machine will be freed up for the hummus and baba ghanouj. Both spreads contain tahini and lemon, but they are entirely different in both texture and flavor. I cooked a large eggplant under the broiler until the skin was hard and the flesh was meltingly soft. You can also do it on a grill, but either way will give you just enough smoky flavor to make this velvety spread totally addicting. I think the baba ghanouj was my favorite, as it tasted better than most other versions I’ve tried. I wouldn’t do a single thing differently next time. The basic recipe came from my copy of The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook which is a reliable source of healthy, minimally corrupted versions of modern American and ethnic dishes. While the eggplant cooks, you can prepare the hummus and sauté the carrots. Once the carrots are soft and sweet, all you have to do is fold them into a bowl of thick, tangy Greek yogurt with fresh mint, lemon juice and olive oil. Leave this dip chilling in the refrigerator while you make the baba ghanouj. Serve them all with pita bread toasted in the oven for a few minutes, freshly cut tomato wedges and Greek olives. Just one warning: if you leave your guests too long with this plate of dips and an unlimited supply of pita bread, it is highly unlikely that they will have any need for a second course.

Makes about 3 cups

3 medium garlic cloves
2 – 15 oz. cans no salt added chickpeas, drained and liquid reserved
¼ c. plus 1 tblsp. tahini (I used Arrowhead Mills organic)
¼ c. lemon juice, plus more to taste
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil, chopped parsley, paprika for garnish (optional)

Turn on the food processor and put the garlic in through the chute. Turn machine off, remove the lid and add the cans of chickpeas, 1/2 cup of their liquid, the tahini, and lemon juice. Process until smooth. If mixture is too thick, add more of the chickpea liquid to get your desired consistency. If you run out of chickpea liquid, use water. Keep in mind that hummus will thicken slightly as it sets. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Add more lemon juice if you think the hummus needs it. To serve, garnish with extra virgin olive oil, chopped parsley and paprika, if desired.

Baba Ghanouj
Adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
Makes about 2 cups

2 lbs eggplant (either 1 large or 2 small), stem end trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 clove garlic
¼ c. tahini
3 tblsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. salt, plus more to taste
fresh ground pepper (optional)
chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Preheat broiler or grill. If broiling, place eggplants cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Cook at least 6 inches from heat for about 20 minutes or until the skin is hard. On a grill, place the eggplants directly on the rack, cut side up. Set aside to cool.

Turn the food processor on and add the garlic through the chute. Turn machine off and remove the lid. Drain any water that had collected inside each eggplant half, then scrape the flesh out with a spoon into the processor. It should separate easily from the crisp skin. Add the tahini, lemon juice and salt. Process until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Serve chilled or at room temperature, sprinkled with parsley, if desired.

The smoky flavor that results from broiling or grilling the eggplant is subtle yet pervasive. The thick skin keeps the flesh from taking on any burnt taste whatsoever.

Greek Yogurt with Sauteed Carrots and Mint
Adapted from Meze by Diane Kochilas
Makes about 2 cups
The lowfat Greek yogurt I used did not detract at all from this rich, creamy dip. Use whatever variety you like.

2 to 3 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium carrots, shredded
2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 c. mint leaves, thinnly julienned, plus more for garnish
2 c. Greek yogurt (I used Fage's Total 2% version)
salt to taste
2 to 3 tblsp. lemon juice, to taste

Heat one tblsp. of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat to low, add a bit more oil and add the garlic, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Fold in the mint and remove from heat immediately.

Put the yogurt in a bowl and add the carrot mixture, a pinch of salt, the lemon juice and about 1 tblsp. of oil. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chill for at least 30 minutes, sprinkle with additional mint and serve.

One more gratuitous hummus close up. It may have been the least exciting of the three dips, but we kept going back for just one more bite. Next time, I will make up a couple different hummus varieties with some of the following: roasted red peppers, olives, caramelized onions, chile peppers,curry powder, or ginger. You can add just about anything.

These dips were easy and fun to make. The saga of the spanakopita will have to wait until the next post.


Ivonne said...

Wow! You're a star! They all look fantastic and the pita bread is the icing on the cake. Well done!

Julie said...

What a great idea for a summer meal. Hummus is something I never even think about making but I don't know why -- I really enjoy it. And baba ghanouj is a great idea for this time of year when the farmer's market is full of inexpensive eggplants.

christine said...

Great photos and great recipes! You make it all sound so easy. And what a great appetizer plate for guests. These are going in my Del.icio.us cookbook!

yoony said...


i'm new to your blog and love it! lots of fresh mediterranean flavors to make me hungry.

Julie said...

Thanks for reading, everyone! The dips are totally worth making. I love when I discover easy ethnic recipes. The spanakopita, on the other hand, is a different story...

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

The recipes look fantastic. Thank you for simplifying Green dips.~~Dee

Julie said...

Dee: Thanks for your comment!