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culinary-artTantalize your taste buds with Dips, Spreads and Pestos

DIP into your imagination, SPREAD a load of flavour and hey PESTO! You can have some cool summer party food!

Entertaining in summer can be a chore. Spending hours stirring pots over a hot stove can be tiresome in the heat and by the time the party begins you wish you weren’t entertaining at all.

Here are some quick and simple solutions to those
sizzling summer days when all you have to do is throw ingredients into a blender or processor and whizz up
some magical delights to wow your family and friends.
Dips, spreads and pestos are every lazy cook and food
lover’s dream. Easy to prepare, even easier to serve and
best of all easy to eat, they are a must-feature in your repertoire of summer recipes.

Dips are bowls of sumptuous pleasure. They are usually smooth, thick and creamy purées or sauces, which sometimes come studded with crunchy or knobbly bits and pieces to surprise your taste buds.

Much as you would like to scoop out spoonfuls into your salivating mouth, dips are best eaten with ‘dippers’ – small edible vegetable or bread sticks, chunks of bread, crackers or crisps.

The key To perfect dips:

  • Consistency: Consistency is key – a dip is only as good as the blob that will stay on your dipper as you transport it from the bowl to your mouth. Runny dips will drip all over your clothes or down your chin; too thick or too dry dips will prove difficult to dig into and scoop. The ideal consistency is akin to thick mayonnaise.
  • Texture: Dips can be smooth or have tiny bits of crunchy or crispy ingredients – cucumber, fried garlic, olives or gherkins – incorporated to provide an interesting texture and burst of flavour. The emphasis is on tiny because anything larger will be difficult to scoop. Small, soft clumps of cottage cheese or ricotta also provide an interesting texture.
  • Temperature: Dips can be hot or cold. Cold dips are more practical as they can be made ahead and dished out in time and left at room temperature for longer. Hot dips like fondues, require to be placed over a burner to keep them warm, or they will thicken, get crusty or congeal.
  • Colour: While the dips themselves can look a bit dull, the colour comes from the brightly coloured fresh vegetable dippers or the dish in which they are served. Make sure you use contrasting colours to liven up a pale looking dip by garnishing it with a shock of colour. A note of caution: make sure you use the tiniest garnishes or they will interfere with the dipping.
  • Flavour: What would a dip be without punchy flavours that awaken your taste buds for the feast to follow.  Remember that the dip is the bride and the dipper the bridesmaid! The dipper just lends a helping hand to the dip which is the star of the show. So infuse your dip with loads of flavour and accompany it with complementing dippers that will allow it to shine. The dip itself should have a balance of flavours and the ingredients should be well blended to form a harmonious mélange of tastes and textures. Spices, herbs and aromatics will spike your dips with flavour and make your taste buds sing.

Dips can be either sweet or savoury, though savoury dips are more popular. Sweet dips such as chocolate or caramel dips are usually served as dessert and are best served with fresh fruit and sweet cookies for dipping.

  • Bases for dips: Almost anything can be turned into a dip or a spread for that matter. The base for a dip is usually a sauce such as mayonnaise or tomato ketchup, thick yoghurt, cream cheese, ricotta and puréed vegetables, fruit or beans. Chutneys and sauces make wonderful bases as well as flavourings for dips as do bottled sauces and dressings. Give your imagination free rein and you will come up with interesting combinations.
  • Dippers: Dippers should be sturdy to be able to scoop up the dip without crumbling or breaking. Vegetable crudités or fresh vegetables chunks or fingers make for healthy dippers. Chunks of crusty bread, toast fingers, bread sticks or grissini, crisp breads like lavash, crisps, nachos, tortilla chips and small crackers are ideal for savoury dips, while fresh fruit and sweet cookies are great as dessert dippers. Make sure that the size of dipper is just right for one dip and one mouthful – nothing is more distasteful than having someone double-dip or take a bite and dip the rest of the dipper back into the dip!
  • How to serve dips: Dips are best served in a bowl on a platter on which the dippers can be arranged. Use food-safe bowls and avoid polished wooden or metal bowls which will react with the ingredients. The best bowls are fresh vegetables which have been scooped out such as capsicums, small pumpkins, avocado halves and lettuce leaf cups. Scooped out loaves of crusty bread too, look very attractive on a plate. Arrange the dippers around in an attractive pattern or alongside in glasses. A wide range of ‘chip and dip’ bowls and platters are also available in stores.

These lashings of flavour give new life to the humblest bread or cracker. Thick layers of goodness atop hearty slices of bread or crisp crackers are the stuff of food heaven. Similar to dips, consistency, texture and flavour are everything. Spreadability is the hallmark of a good spread – not too thick nor too thin, soft and moist but not too crumbly. Texture-wise smooth with a few intended bumps and lumps perhaps, and lively flavours emboldened by herbs and spices are the keynotes of a perfect spread.

Spreads have a slightly firmer consistency than dips and can be set in moulds for greater effect. Serve spreads in bowls or in hollowed out vegetables and bread. Surround the bowl and the unmoulded spread with the accompaniments on a platter or a bread board. Provide small blunt butter knives or special spread knives so guests can help themselves easily.

  • Anything goes: As with dips, puréed leftovers like meat roasts, thickened curries, lentils and stews, lightened with  butter, yoghurt, or cream cheese, mayonnaise or any other complementing sauce, will make a delicious spread and give yesterday’s meal a fresh lease of life!
  • Blank Canvases: Slices of crusty bread, triangles or strips of flatbread, Melba toasts (wafer thin toasted slices of bread), crackers and biscuits, toasted mini English muffins etc. are the perfect canvases to showcase thick flavourful spreads. And make sure the spreads are laid on thick!

Pestos are thick Italian sauces which double up as spreads and dips. They are delicious stirred into pasta and vegetables, which is how they are often used. The word pesto is derived from the Italian word for pounding (pestare) – the traditional way of making pesto is to pound the ingredients in a pestle (from the same root word) and mortar.  Pestos generally consist of some green leafy herb, usually basil, crushed with nuts (traditionally pine nuts), garlic and a grated hard cheese like Parmesan, the ingredients emulsified with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Pestos make delicious toppings for bruschetta (toasted/grilled slices of crusty, rustic bread) and crostini (toasted/grilled slices of finer bread). Slathered over the breads and drizzled with olive oil they are a favourite any-time snack. They are also ideal for dipping, their chunky consistency perfect for vegetable crudités, crisp breads, flat breads and crisps.
– Rita D’Souza

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